Authors: Cat Miller
Tags: #college, #Romance, #New Adult
Copyright © 2014 by Cat Miller
Cover by Mae I Design and Photography
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover art by:
Ellie at Love N. Books
Formatted by the
E-book Formatting Fairies
I dedicate this book to my readers. Thank you for supporting me in this new literary journey. I adore you.
This one also goes out to Justin Tayler, a man who uses his talent and love of photography to support and promote young athletes. I’m honored to call you my friend.
She was so fucking pathetic. Grace stood there staring at Jack’s door while her heart did a damn good impression of a kamikaze pilot, crashing and burning for a love that would never be returned. Fuck! She couldn’t keep doing this to herself.
Grace thought back to the event of the evening before and wished she’d followed through with her plan to leave without saying goodbye to Jack. But her stupid, romantic heart demanded that she see his face one last time. She ran her hands through her long dark hair, searching the floor at her feet for the shreds of her dignity but she found none. Grace raised her hand to rap on the door but stopped her fist at the last moment. What if he wasn’t alone? The chances that he was alone were slim. What was she going to say to him? Honestly, there wasn’t anything left to say. She backed away from his door and just kept going. It was time to go home.
Jack and Grace met in their senior year at the University of Maryland. Grace was at her first Terps game and she had no idea what was going on. She’d never been a basketball fan but her roommate, Jessie, was going to the game and Grace was tagging along for the experience. She was a senior and her college years thus far had been spent solely in the pursuit of her degree. She’d dated a few guys but nothing serious ever came of those relationships. She’d had a like-minded roommate for the past three years, so it seemed like the natural course of things. They went to class and study groups. They hung out at the coffee shop and worked on their laptops. She avoided the party scene completely. A few of her dates had taken her to clubs and that was okay from time to time.
Grace was the first person in her hard working family to go away to college. She felt an obligation to give it everything she had and make every penny of the hard earned money her parents were investing in her education worth it in the end.
Her old roomy had graduated and last year she’d been paired up with a new roommate and things had changed. Getting good grades was still her priority but Jessie had taught her that there was nothing wrong with having a good time too. She had to admit that she was a lot less stressed out when her entire world didn’t revolve around her studies. The pressure she put on herself was far heavier than anything her parents expected her to carry. They just wanted her to be happy. For Grace, being happy meant being at the top of her class.
At the game she was sitting between Jessie on her right and this adorable, boy next door type on her left. A player made a three point shot and the crowd exploded in celebration, everyone that is except for her and the cutie at her side. He stood there looking as left out as she did. Grace just wasn’t into the game and it seemed her sandy haired neighbor wasn’t either. His friends all reacted with fist pumping, high fiving, back slapping enthusiasm. He was pushed into Grace and she was shoved toward him by her mutually excited friends.
Grace stepped forward to avoid slamming into him and lost her footing. The guy grabbed her upper arm and pulled her toward him to keep her from toppling over the row of seats in front of them. The game continued and the crowd settled a bit, but for Grace, time had stopped. She found herself pressed against a surprisingly firm chest and staring up into a pair of amused hazel eyes. Damn. What was he hiding under that shirt? His hair framed his face that was classically handsome. He was captivating with those pretty eyes and a square jaw. He wore a diamond earring in both earlobes. He smiled down at her and it transformed him from the boy next door to a devilishly confident man who knew his charm. Grace blushed. She’d been standing there in his arms, gawking at the guy like an idiot. He leaned down to speak over the once again roaring crowd.
His lips brushed her cheek when he said near her ear, “You wanna get out of here? I know a great place for burgers.” He pulled back enough to gage her reaction. She nodded dumbly back at him. The combination of his smile, his firm arms wrapped around her, and the feel of his warm breath on her cheek had struck her stupid. Any minute now her brain was going to reboot, any minute, she was sure it would happen, eventually. He grinned broadly and grabbed her hand, towing her toward the end of the row. He informed his buddies he was leaving as they went and the guys smirked and eyed her as she passed.
He tugged her up the steep steps to the exit and out into the corridor. The stillness and relative quiet of the concession area was a sharp contrast to the madness of the arena. Televisions mounted at regular intervals broadcast the game to everyone waiting in line for snacks and they also reacted to the action on the court. They walked hand-in-hand and Grace’s brain was finally coming back online. She was peeking over at the boy next door as they walked briskly toward the exit. He looked down at her with that stunning how-could-you-not-adore-me smile again.
“I could eat my weight right now. I missed lunch,” he said as if they were lifelong friends instead of strangers who hadn’t even exchanged names yet. “I’d love a burger or two, unless you’d rather have something else. It’s lady’s choice, of course.” He squeezed her hand and the intimacy of it struck her. He had a firm, yet gentle grip on her hand as they crossed the parking lot and the warmth of his long fingers wrapped around hers radiated up her arm.
They reached a silver Honda and he released her hand to open the passenger door for her. Grace looked at the open door in confusion. Had anyone ever opened a car door for her? She didn’t think so. Feeling suddenly unsure about driving off with a stranger, she looked up into his eyes, which had appeared hazel in the shadows of the arena but now looked more of an ocean bluish green under the street lights of the parking lot. He stood there waiting patiently for her to get in his car.
Grace finally found her voice box, turned to face him, and grinned. She couldn’t help it, his smile was infectious. He made her feel instantly like they really would be lifelong friends and the longer she looked at the guy, the sexier he became to her. His clothes were not the prerequisite game day gear. He didn’t sport a jersey or even a U of M t-shirt like she did; instead he looked like an American Eagle ad with his distressed jeans and a polo rolled at the sleeves. Her eyes strayed to his thick arms. Dude was packing some guns.
She took her time checking him out and he seemed to be doing the same to her. They looked each other over with interest. He didn’t look like a serial killer. No, what he looked like was a whole lot of trouble, and she was suddenly ready to break some rules. Trouble sounded like a damn fine thing at the moment.
She extended her hand in greeting. “I’m Grace Yates, business major and sadly an uninterested sports spectator.” He shook her hand gently.
“I’m Jack Landry, art major and abductor of bored females from sporting events.” A slight blush warmed his cheeks and they stood there grinning at each other like idiots. He cleared his throat and continued, “Sorry about that. I tend to take control of a situation, every situation actually, and just go with what moves me at the moment. My family says I’m a natural leader. My friends say I’m more like a steamroller.”
Grace laughed out loud at that and gave him a look of mock indignation on his behalf. “I can’t image why anyone would say such a thing.” His blush deepened and the cutest furrow appeared in his brow. He was frowning and his discomfort made her feel like an ass for teasing him.
“Come on. Let’s go find some food. You rescued me before I had to resort to choking back one of those giant pretzels.” She turned and slid into the passenger seat. He closed the door for her and she engaged her seatbelt. Grace noticed the immaculate condition of Jack’s car. She was a bit nervous about putting her shoes on his clean floor mats. When Jack climbed in beside her, Grace’s thoughts returned to her rash decision to take him up on the dinner offer.
It may be a major no-no to leave with a stranger but this guy didn’t send up any alarms for her. Quite the opposite, in fact, her instincts said he was just what she needed, what she really wanted. That made him dangerous in a completely different way. She needed to focus on her school work and she would, but what was the college experience without the complication of a mysterious hottie along way?
As they drove through town they chatted about their friends and what brought two uninterested students to the game. Jack was there for the same reason she’d gone, his friends were going and he wanted to experience a game from the stands. Jack liked basketball but his favorite sport was soccer or European football as he called it. He enjoyed taking in sports on a big screen from a comfortable seat on the couch at home or a stool at the bar. The madness, flat beer, and the overpriced and not particularly appetizing food at the concession stands were no match for the comforts of home.
Jack pulled onto the parking lot of an old fashioned diner that looked like it was straight out of an old movie. It was a gleaming silver and neon beacon to hungry people everywhere. They followed a hostess across the black and white checked flooring to a booth with red leather padded bench seats and a little jukebox affixed to the wall.
“So you’re an art major?” she asked skeptically after the waitress had taken their order and walked away.
Jack crossed his arms over his chest and gave her a little glare. The muscles of his surprisingly thick arms strained against the fabric of his sleeves. Her mouth watered a bit. Shit! Paying attention to his response was not an easy task. Now she knew how men felt when a woman crossed her arms and it pushed her boobs together. You had to look. You just had to.
an art major.” He cocked his head. “Why is that so hard to believe?” he asked, sounding slightly annoyed.
“I don’t know. I guess I think of the artsy folks as the ones who constantly have paint spatters on their clothes, or their fingers are black from drawing. They’re the sculptors in their smocks and goggles. They’re the ones with multi-colored hair and piercings. You’re so . . . clean and put together.” She finished and his look of disappointment made her squirm.
“You sound just like my dad
. ‘You’ll never get anywhere with an art degree, Jackson. There’s no future in that shit, Jackson.’
” He deepened his voice and adopted an angry visage, as if imitating his father. When he returned to a normal tone the warm presence that had radiated from him since he first wrapped his arms around her was gone. He looked resigned and saddened. “I love my art. It may not be the classic form of art you’re imagining, but it is art all the same. I’m studying graphic design and web design. I won’t apologize for it.”
Okay. She’d obviously struck a nerve. But she wouldn’t let Jack lump her in with his father. She didn’t think it was a bad choice. She only wanted to understand his choice. She was curious by nature and thought she was opening up a conversation, not starting a disagreement.
“Hold on just a minute.” She put up her hands like she was soothing an animal. “I didn’t mean that as an insult and I certainly don’t think you need to apologize for anything. I didn’t say anything about art not providing a viable career. I was just curious about what made you choose art. I’m a business major. It’s all about the numbers for me. I need a plan of action to follow,” she tried to explain. He grimaced at her words. She pointed at him. “You see, that sounded like a shit idea to you, didn’t it? Obviously, the idea of spending your days working toward a bigger bottom line does not sound like a good time to you, does it?” she challenged.