“CANDICE, YOU NEED to focus. You have got to pass this final or they aren’t going to let you coach this summer.”

She snorted and her eyes went wide as she leaned even closer to the mirror and tried to re-create her snort. “Oh my God! Why didn’t you tell me how ugly I look when I do that!?”

I face-planted into the pillow and mumbled, “Oh dear Lord, this isn’t happening.” Lifting my head, I sent her a weak glare. “Snorts aren’t meant to be cute. Otherwise they wouldn’t be called something as awkward as ‘snort.’ ”

“But my—”

“Final, Candice. You need to study for your final.”

“I’m waiting on you,” she said in a singsong voice. “You’re supposed to be quizzing me.”

I loved Candice. I really did. Even though I currently wanted to wring her neck. She wasn’t just my best friend; she was like a sister to me and was the closest thing to family I had left. On the first day of kindergarten, a boy with glasses pushed me down on the playground. While he was still laughing at me, Candice grabbed his glasses and smashed them on the ground. That’s playground love. And since then we’ve never spent more than a handful of days apart.

By the time we started thinking about college, it was just assumed we would go away together. But then my parents died right before my senior year of high school started, and nothing seemed to matter anymore. They had gone on a weekend getaway with two partners from my dad’s law firm and their wives and were on their way home when the company jet’s engine failed and went down near Shaver Lake.

Candice’s family took me in without a second thought since the only relatives I had lived across the country and I hardly knew them; if it weren’t for them I don’t know how I would have made it through that time. They made sure I continued going to school, kept my grades up, and attempted to live as normal a life as possible. I no longer cared about graduating or going away to college, but because of them, I followed through with my plans of getting away and making my own life. I would forever be grateful to the Jenkins family.


I applied to every college Candice did and let her decide where we were going. She’d been a cheerleader for as long as I could remember, so it shouldn’t have surprised me when she decided on a university based on the football team and school spirit. And granted, she was given an amazing scholarship. But Texas? Really? She chose the University of Texas at Austin and started buying everything she found in that god-awful burnt-orange color. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be a “Longhorn,” but whatever got me away from my hometown was fine by me . . . and I guess the University of Texas accomplished that.

When we first arrived I remember it felt like walking into a sauna, it was so hot and humid; of course the first thing Candice said was, “What am I going to do with my hair?!” Her hair had already begun frizzing, and not more than five minutes later she was rocking a fro. We got used to the humidity and crazy weather changes soon enough though, and to my surprise, I loved Texas. I had been expecting dirt roads, tumbleweeds, and cowboys—let me tell you, I had never been so happy to be wrong. Downtown Austin’s buildings reminded me of Los Angeles, and the city was unbelievably green everywhere and had lakes and rivers perfect for hanging out with friends. Oh, and I’d only seen a couple of cowboys in the almost three years we’d been there, not that I was complaining when I did. I had also worried when we arrived that with Candice’s new burnt-orange fetish, people were going to be able to spot us like Asian tourists at Disneyland. Thankfully, the majority of Austin was packed with UT Longhorn gear, and it was common to see a burnt-orange truck on the road.

Now we were a little less than two weeks away from finishing our junior year and I couldn’t wait for the time off. Normally we went to California to see Candice’s family during the winter and summer breaks, but she was working at a cheer camp for elementary-school girls that summer, so we were getting an apartment that we planned to keep as we finished our senior year.

That is, if we ever got Candice to pass this damn final.

Before I could even ask my first question, Candice gasped loudly. “Oh my God, the pores on my nose are huge.”

Grabbing the pillow under me, I launched it at her and failed miserably at hitting anything, including her. At least it got her attention. Her mouth snapped shut, she turned to look at the pillow lying a few feet from her, then she turned around with a huff to walk back to her desk.

Finally. “Okay, what is—”

“So are you ever going to go on a date with Blake?”


“What?” She shot me an innocent look. “He’s been asking you out for a year!”

“This—you need—forget it.” I slammed the book shut and rolled off my bed, stretching quickly before going to drop the heavy book on my desk. “Forget it, we’ll just see if we can get our deposit on the apartment back. I swear to God, it’s like trying to study with a five-year-old.”

“You never answered my question.”

“What question?”

“Are you going to go on a date with Blake?”

I sighed and fell into the chair at my desk. “One, he’s your cousin. Two, he works for UT now; that’s just . . . kinda weird. Three, no.”

“It’s not like he’s your professor! He isn’t even a professor, period. And do you realize that if you marry him, we’ll actually be family?”

“Marry? Candice— Wait . . . how do you even jump from me going on a date with him to marrying him? I’m not going to marry your cousin; sorry. And I don’t care if he’s a professor or not, it doesn’t change the fact that he works for the school. Besides, he’s not even my type.”

“Not your type?” she said, deadpan, and one perfect blond eyebrow shot straight up. “I seem to remember you having the biggest crush on him when we were growing up. And I know he’s family, but I can still say that he’s gorgeous. I’m pretty sure he’s everyone’s type.”

I had to agree with her on that. Blake West was tall, blond, and blue eyed and had a body like a god’s. One of these days he was going to show up on a Calvin Klein billboard. “I had a crush on him when we were thirteen. That was eight years ago.”

“But you had a crush on him for years. Years. You were devastated when he moved away.”

“And like I said, I was thirteen. I was ridiculous.”

Blake was five years older than Candice and me, but even so, all of my childhood memories included him. He was always at Candice’s house to hang out with her older brother, Eli, and we followed them everywhere. I’d viewed both Eli and Blake as awesome older brothers until the day Blake saved my life.

Okay, that’s a little dramatic. He didn’t actually save my life.

I was nine at the time; we’d been playing on a rope swing and jumping into a little lake not far from our houses. When I’d gone to jump, my foot slipped into the foot hole and I ended up swinging back toward land headfirst, screaming the whole way. Blake was standing on the bank and caught me, swinging me into his arms before I could make the trip back toward the water.

In that moment, he became my hero, and I fell in love. Or at least my nine-year-old version of love. My infatuation with him grew over the next few years, but he never saw me as anything other than his “little cousin’s best friend.” I’m sure if I’d been older, that would have been a blow to my ego, but I just kept following him around like I’d always done. When he graduated from high school, he immediately joined the air force and moved away from me. I remember throwing a few “my life is over” fits to Candice, but then I got boobs and hips and the other boys my age started noticing me. And then it was something along the lines of, “Blake who?”

He’d been out of the air force for four years now and had pretty much been off the grid until last fall, when he’d moved to Austin and started working at UT. Candice had flipped out over having her cousin near her again. And I’d just straight flipped out. But then I saw him. He looked like freakin’ Adonis standing there in his godlike, too-beautiful-for-his-own-good glory. Every straight female within a mile radius seemed to flock to him, and he loved every second of it.

That is why I refused to go on a date with him.

“Rachel,” Candice snapped.

I turned my wide gaze to her.

“Did you even hear me?”

“Not unless we’re done talking about Blake.”

“We are if you’ve decided to say yes to him.”

I rolled my eyes. “Why is it so important to you if I go on a date with him or not?”

“Because he’s been asking you out all year! He’s my cousin and you’re my best friend and I love you both and I want to see you two together.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure you and Blake are the only two who feel that way. I have absolutely no desire to date a guy who has women literally hanging on him all the time.” Stupid air force, turning him into sex on a stick.

Suddenly she was sporting her signature pouty face. “Rach? How much do you love me?”

“Nope. No, I’m not going.”

“Are you saying you don’t love me?” I was already shaking my head to say no when she turned on the puppy eyes and continued. “So will you please do this for me? Pleeeeaaasse? I thought you were my best friend.”

I can’t even believe we’re doing this right now! “If I go on one date with him, will you drop this forever?”

She squeaked and did a happy clap. “Thank you, I love you, you’re the best!”

“I didn’t say I would, I said if.”

“But I know you’ll go.”

“He works for the school!” I whined, going back to my original argument. Even though he wasn’t a professor at UT, he did work there as a personal trainer and helped out in the athletics department. Since I was majoring in athletic training and Candice in kinesiology and health ed, we saw him almost daily in classroom-type settings. That just . . . didn’t sit right with me.

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