Something was wrong with me. Not physically—these abs didn’t quit—but something in my brain. I stood in the sun-splashed backyard of a sorority house, surrounded by beautiful women frolicking in bikinis, and I didn’t give a shit.
The summer before my senior year should have been spent honing my skills to a razor-sharp point and enjoying the notoriety that came with a national football championship. Instead, I’d fucked up and gotten involved with my best friend, Eva. Former best friend?
I sighed and grabbed a beer from the cooler on the patio, trying to blend in as I meandered my way across the yard.
She was avoiding me by spending the summer at her family’s beach house, and I was trying to give her the space she clearly needed from all the feelings I’d tossed at her. Stupid, I know. The worst part was that I couldn’t stop wondering what if I’d left things the way they were. What if I hadn’t jumped at her offer to complicate things.
Our relationship was one big question mark at the moment, kind of like my plans for the next few months. I usually spent the summer training with the cheerleaders when I wasn’t busy with football stuff or classes, but I didn’t need to be told that Eva’s squad was off-limits now. The gaping hole in my schedule was nothing compared to the Eva-sized chunk missing from the rest of me. She had her ways of coping, and so did I. Except my usual strategy wasn’t working.
I frowned down at my junk—immobile under my lucky pink cargo shorts—and pointed out the abundance of opportunity, but no amount of pep talking got Big Mac to pay attention. Honestly, I didn’t even think he was listening.
Fuck, this summer was going to suck.
“This game makes no sense.” The familiar husky voice stopped me in my tracks.
Eva’s friend, Blue, was somewhere at this low-key backyard party, and I desperately hoped she was alone. Not for any sexy reasons—my dick was officially on hiatus—but because I needed a break from Eva.
From all of them, really.
I’d picked a Chi Omega party specifically because this sorority didn’t pander to athletes. They went for the high-powered business type, which should have guaranteed me obscurity among the crowd.
None of my crew knew I was back at TU, and I wanted to keep it that way for a few more hours. I didn’t need the sad looks and the pity. Bad enough my mom had gone on and on about how unfortunate it was Eva couldn’t make it home with me.
My family had always been careful not to put pressure on our relationship, but everyone knew Mom had been planning our wedding from the day Eva had gotten suspended in first grade for punching the asshole kid who stole my lunch.
No one knew, but that day was the beginning of my love affair with Wonder Woman. Eva had worn her star-spangled dress and lasso of truth when she defended me. As much as I loved Gal Gadot, my first Wonder Woman was tiny and blonde.
And now, she’s gone.
I took a long pull of my beer, raising the bottle to my mouth as I scanned the people milling around on the grass, enjoying the sunshine. It took me two passes, but I finally spotted Blue standing with her hands on her hips next to a cornhole set-up.
My hand stilled with the cool glass pressed against my lips. The sun brought out a pink flush on her bare shoulders, and her black tank top clung to her curves. Curves I hadn’t noticed before, but I was sure as hell noticing now.
Rainbow streaks peeked between strands of her dark hair as she tilted her head to glare at the little beanbags littering the area around the boards. Shorts rode high on her thighs, and my gaze traveled down the long length of her legs to her pink-tipped toes.
Blue was a smokeshow… when had that happened? Every time I saw her, she looked like a different person. Overalls, a slinky dress, yoga pants—she’d worn it all. Usually lurking on the fringes when she showed up. I knew Chloe invited her out a few times after Eva left, but I hadn’t considered Blue having a social life outside our crew.
Today’s outfit fit right in with the sorority, relaxed and uncomplicated. For some reason, the kaleidoscope of Blue drew me. I wanted to peel back her chameleon layers until I found the real person beneath.
Belatedly, I checked the faces around her and relaxed when I didn’t see a tiny blonde cheerleader holding court. If Eva were here, she’d be with Blue and surrounded by her adoring fans. Her absence meant I could have the afternoon to myself if I wanted it.
Suddenly, the idea of being alone in a crowd wasn’t nearly as interesting as finding out what Blue was doing at a sorority party. Preferably somewhere away from the half-drunk co-eds. I chuckled as I finished off my beer. The guys would definitely give me shit if they knew I came to a party and planned to hide from the ladies.
Almost as much as if they realized I still had my shirt on when there was a bright yellow slip and slide stretched across the large backyard. I trained hard, and I liked the effect my efforts had on the female population. No shame in my game.
Two girls wearing almost nothing shrieked as they launched themselves over the slick surface, but my gaze landed back on Blue. Unlike most of the women I knew, Blue had never shown any appreciation for my body. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t sure she’d said more than two words to me in the months since she’d started coming around with Eva.
Another mystery I wanted to solve. Some part of me insisted I was focusing on Blue as a distraction from my splintered insides, but my interest in her was real. It was nice to feel something other than misery and exhaustion.
I bided my time, watching like a creeper until Blue shook her head in disgust and abandoned the game to head for the big house. She slipped through the sliding glass doors, and I took the opportunity offered to me.
The entrance from the patio led to a large white kitchen, empty except for the girl I was suddenly obsessed with digging through the refrigerator and mumbling to herself. She didn’t stop when I pulled the door shut behind me, and I grinned at the frustration in her voice.
I leaned on the island and peeked around the door to see her collecting cheese cubes from a tray. “Do the Chi Omegas know you’re raiding their fancy snacks?”
Blue gave a tiny shriek and slammed the fridge closed hard enough to rattle the glass bottles. Her blue green eyes landed on me—the color of water in paradise, another thing I hadn’t noticed about her—and somehow got bigger.
“It’s you,” she spit out.
My smile widened. “It’s me. You want to share some of your pilfered cheese?”
She blinked, then looked down at her handful of food with a frown. “It’s not stolen. Courtney said I could help myself to the snacks.”
I chuckled. “She probably meant the ones covering the tables outside, but what do I know?”
Blue held out her hand, and I plucked an orange cube from her palm. “No, you’re probably right. I just wanted something cold.”
“I won’t tell if you won’t.” I popped the cheese in my mouth, and she followed my lead.
We shared her snack while she peered at me with growing suspicion. “Did you follow me here?”
Busted. “To the party? No. Into the kitchen? Yes.”
I didn’t want to admit she’d been the only thing to capture my attention in weeks—or how much she intrigued me. Sharing my feelings had gotten me into this mess in the first place. To buy myself some time, I came around the island to grab two plastic water bottles from the pack on the counter next to her, handing her one.
She twitched toward the door like she wanted to run. “I’m not having sex with you.”
My brows shot up. “Was that an option?”
Blue cleared her throat and took a swig of water. “I don’t know, but it felt relevant.”
Her eyes caught mine, and the kitchen narrowed to the two of us. I could make a joke and laugh off her knee-jerk response, but the lingering need to burrow under her ever-changing exterior knocked me off guard.
“It’s not. Relevant. I don’t actually try to get every woman I meet into bed. I mean, the interested ones, yeah, but not for a while. And the whole thing with Eva kind of knocked me out of the game. I couldn’t handle a hookup even if I wanted to.” My words tumbled over themselves in an awkward tangle, threatening to strangle me if I didn’t get a grip on my tongue. I sucked at keeping things to myself.
Blue looked like she’d gladly strangle me too if it would stop this awkward conversation. “I’m sorry your penis isn’t working, but that doesn’t explain why you followed me.”
“My junk works, sunshine. I just don’t have any interest in using it.”
She tilted her head, confused. “Then why are you here?”
“I don’t know.” The truth slipped from me without permission from my brain. “I noticed you outside, and it was like seeing you for the first time—like you’d finally come out from behind your cloud. Despite your scowl. I thought I might be looking at the real you for once.”
So much for not spilling my guts all over the kitchen. I waited for her to run screaming from the room, but her uneasy expression smoothed away.
“I’m always the real me. Hardcore, unfiltered truth. Whether you want it or not.” She didn’t sound particularly pleased with the observation, but it was exactly what I hadn’t realized I needed until now.
Unfiltered truth. Someone get this girl a lasso.
“The real you sounds perfect. I’m tired of the bullshit.”
She took a step closer, examining my face. “I can see why you’d feel that way with the others tiptoeing around you. Why come to a party then?”
I laughed low, without humor. “I don’t know. Loneliness. Stupidity. Hope.”
“At least the last one is a good reason. Though I doubt it will do you much good if you’re hoping for a reunion with Eva.”
Blue knew more than I’d anticipated. Had Eva been talking about me? Hurt tried to slice me open before I squashed it flat. Eva and I were done. She’d made it perfectly clear she had no interest in a romantic relationship beyond a good dicking when she felt the urge.
As if she could read my mind, Blue frowned again. “Sorry. I’m not good with sensitive subjects.”
Instead of sinking into the defeat and anger and hurt, I found myself coming up with ways to erase the frustration from Blue’s face. I hadn’t seen her smile yet, and I desperately wanted to make it happen. I wanted to see her full lips curl just for me.
My dick twitched at the thought, and despite the little voice yelling hallelujah!, I tried not to stare at her mouth.
Tried and failed. A faint blush lit Blue’s cheeks, and she caught her bottom lip with her teeth. The tension ratcheted up, and I went from twitching to rock hard in seconds.
“If you’re looking for sympathy, you’re better off spending time with anyone outside.” Even her voice had gone soft and breathy.
I stepped closer to her, narrowing the distance between us to mere inches, unable to stop myself from testing the reaction. “I don’t want to spend time with them—I want to spend time with you.”
Her lips parted on an indrawn breath, quick and surprised, and her tropical eyes darkened with hunger. My pulse rocketed to match. Huh. My attraction to Blue wasn’t exactly a surprise—smokeshow—but she felt it too.
The slow-spreading heat, the subtle buzz of electricity, the urge to do something supremely stupid.
Blue hauled in a deep breath, and in true form, blurted out the truth. “Friends with benefits seems like a bad idea with Eva between us.”
Fuck. Yes, it did. I ordered Big Mac to stand down and scrubbed a hand down my face. She didn’t move, as if she hadn’t convinced herself either. I could simply turn and walk away. Go back to my sad existence where everyone was afraid to whisper Eva’s name in my vicinity.
A vivid memory of Blue’s legs peeking out from under a short black dress at one of my Sunday karaoke deals flashed across my mind, followed by the image of her glaring down at the beanbags like they’d personally offended her.
To hell with walking away. It wasn’t about Eva or my miserable ass. I’d gotten a taste of the real Blue, and I wanted more.
“How about friends without benefits? Keep me company this summer. I need to expand my inner circle, and I’m choosing you.” I tried not to let the plea sneak into my words, but when her eyes narrowed, I was pretty sure I’d failed.
“If this is a ploy, I want you to know I have no problem using my pepper spray to make a point.”
And just like that, my life became interesting again. I smiled at her threat, though I was one hundred percent certain she was serious. Hardcore, unfiltered truth.
“No need for your pepper spray, sunshine, only your refreshing company.” I shoved the benefits to the back of my mind. Blue hit every box for me, but I’d learned my lesson about mixing friendship with pleasure.
She blew out a breath. “Fine. Friends without benefits. At least until Eva comes back.”
The major victory I’d just won felt strangely hollow, but I wasn’t going to miss my chance to feel like myself for a few months.
“Fair warning, I’m a cuddler.” With a wicked grin, I pulled her close for a hug. A platonic hug. Purely to see how she’d react. Touching was my love language, after all.
Blue stiffened for a split second, then relaxed in my arms. We were immediately treading dangerous territory, but my girl came up with the save once again.
She looked up at me and patted my bicep. “Fair warning, when startled, I punch first and ask questions later.”
I laughed, a long, loud, unrestrained belly laugh, but I didn’t let her go. She was mine for the summer, and I wasn’t wasting a second.