“You’re not anymore?”

“Depends on who you ask.” I laughed. “Yeah, I don’t know. When I was a freshman—those first couple of months, being around all the older girls? I probably put more effort into them than I did my classes.”

She grinned. “But not now?”

I shook my head and went back to what I wanted to know. “So where are you from?”

Shortcake sighed. “I’m from Texas.”

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“Texas?” I leaned onto the table. “Really? You don’t have an accent.”

“I wasn’t born in Texas. My family was originally from Ohio. We moved to Texas when I was eleven and I never picked up any accent.”

“Texas to West Virginia? That’s a hell of a difference.”

Her eyes met mine for a fraction of a second and then she stood, picking up her plate and the bowl. “Well, I lived in the strip-mall-hell part of Texas, but besides that, it’s kind of the same here.”

“I should clean up.” I started to stand. “I made the mess.”

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“No.” She shot me a serious look. “You cooked. I clean.”

Watching her take care of the dishes, I couldn’t help but think how intimate this was—me cooking, her cleaning. While I may have cooked some breakfasts for girls before, it had been nothing like this.

And I really wasn’t sure how to process that.

Turning to the bread, I peeled the foil back. “What made you choose here?”

She finished washing the little frying pan I’d brought over before answering the question. “I just wanted to get away, like you.”

“Got to be hard though.”

“No. It was incredibly easy to make the decision.”

It was? I couldn’t imagine moving that far away from my family. I was pretty sure my mom would hunt me down if I did. I broke the bread in half. “You are an enigma, Avery Morgansten.”

She leaned against the counter. “Not really. More like you are.”

“How so?”

She gestured at me and my half-eaten loaf of bread. “You just ate four hard-boiled eggs, you’re eating half of a loaf, and you have abs that look like they belong on a Bowflex ad.”

My smile was the size of an earthquake crater. “You’ve been checking me out, haven’t you? In between your flaming insults? I feel like man candy.”

She laughed, and the sound was soft and sweet. “Shut up.”

“I’m a growing boy.”

Her brows rose at that, and I laughed. In the following silence, I found myself telling her more than I told most girls I’d known for years. “My dad is a lawyer, runs his own firm back home. So he probably wanted me to go to law school.”

She stayed by the counter. “Why didn’t you?”

“Law is not my thing. Mom’s a doctor—cardiologist—and before you ask, med school also wasn’t my thing.”

Her right hand went to that bracelet, a nervous habit I was beginning to realize. “And sports recreation is your thing?”

“Soccer is my thing. So if I can get on with a team, helping their players, then I’m happy.” I paused, shifting my weight. “Or I’d love to coach, maybe high school or whatever.”

Her gaze dipped to the floor as she crept forward. She reminded me of a scared animal that had been hurt before and was distrustful of those around her. The knot expanded in my chest and the horrible pricking sensation was back, telling me something I didn’t want to hear.

“Why don’t you play soccer?” she asked.

And that was a subject I didn’t want to touch, but she was asking questions and there was no way I could shoot her down. “It’s a long . . . complicated story, but it’s not something I can do right now.”

She was by the table, hovering near the chair. “What about later?”

“Later . . . later might work.” And that was true. If I kept in shape, kept up with the game, who knew? It just wasn’t something I allowed myself to think about a lot. “So you flying back to Texas for fall break or Thanksgiving?”

She snorted. “Probably not.”

“Got other plans?”

Avery shrugged and then started asking me about soccer. Hours had passed and I was sure she was as knowledgeable about soccer as she ever would be. It was near noon when I stood. I didn’t really want to leave, but I had sucked up all her morning.

Flipping the skillet in one hand and carrying the bread in the other, I stopped in front of her door. “So, Avery . . .”

She leaned against the couch. “So, Cam . . .”

“Whatcha you doing Tuesday night?”

“I don’t know.” Wariness settled in her brow. “Why?”

“How about you go out with me?”

“Cam,” she sighed.

“That’s not a no.”

“No.”

“Well, that’s a no,” I admitted.

“Yes, it is.” She moved away from the couch, grabbing the door. “Thanks for the eggs.”

I backed away, undaunted. “How about Wednesday night?”

“Good-bye, Cam.”

Shortcake closed the door, but not before I saw her smile, and I knew it wouldn’t be too much longer before she said yes.

Eight

Apparently I had seriously misjudged how long “much longer” really was.

Days had turned into weeks as summer finally slipped into the past and the leaves on all the oaks turned gold and red. The skies had started to grow darker each day a minute earlier, and the clouds that rolled in and the wind that came off the Potomac warned that winter was right around the corner.

I asked Avery out at least twice a week. Each time, she said no and each time, I became even more determined. At some point in the middle of astronomy, as she hastily took notes, and I sketched the Winchesters’ Chevy Impala, I recognized that the whole challenge aspect of this chase was no longer really in the equation.

Glancing over at her as she watched Drage float from one side of the raised platform to the other in his acid-wash jeans, a fond smile split my lips.

The more time I spent around Avery, the more I wanted to be around her, and all we ever did was talk. Hanging out with a chick, just chilling without any physical fun, was uncharted territory for me. While I’d be down for more, lots more, I was content just being with her. And that was so new to me.

Each Sunday I showed up at her apartment with eggs and a different type of baked goods, learning pretty quickly that anything chocolate was a win with her. The second time I went over, she was as happy to see me as she had been the first time, but she quickly dropped the act. And it was an act, because the way her brown eyes warmed when she saw me told me what she wasn’t willing to say vocally.

She was always wary, every single time we were together, but after a little while, she would begin to relax and that was when the real Avery poked her head out.

Professor Drage paused in his lecture and Shortcake stopped, twisting her right hand at the wrist like she was trying to work a kink out of it.

Dropping my pen in my lap, I didn’t think about what I was doing. When it came to Shortcake, I rarely did think. Maybe that was a problem.

Shortcake gasped as I snatched the pen from between her fingers and placed it on her notebook. Her head swung sharply toward me, brows raised. “What are you doing?” she asked in a low voice.

“Nothing,” I murmured, shifting toward her.

Avery’s chest rose as I curved my hands around her right one. “You’re doing something.”

“Shh.” I pressed my thumbs into her hand, gently running them up the side, over her pinky finger and between.

Her eyes widened as they darted from our hands to my face. “What . . . what are you doing?”

“What does it look like?” I whispered, moving my thumbs to her ring finger and then the middle, following the path of delicate bones. “Your hand looked like it was cramped. I’m doing my good deed of the day.”

“But—”

“Shush it.” My finger slipped into the fleshy part between her pointer and thumb, and Avery gasped. “You’re going to get us in trouble.”

A pink stain bled across her cheeks. “You’re the one touching me.”

“And you’re the one making noise.”

She snapped her mouth shut as I turned her hand over, working her palm. She took a deep breath and then eased back in the seat, her arm and body not so rigid. I watched her from under my lashes and when she sucked her bottom lip between her teeth, the action sent a jolt straight through me. My cock jumped, and I suddenly realized what I was doing wasn’t a very good idea. Nothing more awkward than having a hard-on during class.

But her skin warmed under mine, smooth and soft as satin, and David Beckham could kick a soccer ball off the side of my head, and I wouldn’t be able to stop.

My hands wandered up to her wrist, slipping under the sleeve of her light sweater. Her skin was even softer there, the thin blue vein forming a delicate line I wanted to trace with my lips and then my tongue.

God, I wanted to taste her skin. My jeans felt like they had shrunk about three sizes in the crotch. There was no mistaking that I was attracted to her, but sometimes, like right now, it was almost painful. I wondered if I could kiss her—if anyone would notice if I brought her hand to my lips? We were far enough in the back that Drage would have no clue what we were doing, even if I did kiss her . . . or slipped a hand between those pretty thighs.

But something . . . that fucking prickling sensation along the nape of my neck held me back. Having no idea where I developed this level of self-control, I made myself put her hand down and lean back before I did anything stupid. And right now, I was capable of a whole lot of stupid. Several seconds passed as I forced my breathing to slow and before I could look at her.

Shortcake was staring at me, her eyes a wealth of secrets. Our gazes locked and something infinite passed between us, a spark I swore I could almost see with my eyes.

God, I sounded like a vagina.

“Thank you,” she said, a bit breathlessly as she picked up her pen.

Sliding down in my seat, I spread my thighs, hoping to ease the ache, but I imagined I’d be walking over to the Butcher Center with a major hard-on. “Avery?” I whispered.

“Cam?” she responded back, equally low.

“Go out with me.”

Her throat worked on a swallow and her lips twitched into a small smile. “No.”

Tipping my head against the back of the seat, I grinned.

On Wednesday, I was supposed to be in Principles of Sports Nutrition, along with Ollie and Jase, but I didn’t feel like walking my ass all the way over to the Butcher Center. If I drove, I’d lose my parking spot and that would be a real bitch.

And I was outside of the Den, which coincidentally was around the time Avery ate lunch with her friends. Not that my presence had anything to do with Shortcake.

Oh, who the fuck was I kidding? I knew exactly why my lily-white ass was standing out in front of the Den. I started up the stairs when the doors to the bookstore opened.

“Cam!”

I started at the shrill cry, turning to see Susan and Sally. Or were they Molly and Mary? I had no idea. The two looked identical to me. One had platinum-blonde hair, the other light brown with platinum streaks. Both were tan. Both had rocking tight bodies, and I think I might have made out with one of them at some point.

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