One Tiny Lie Page 3

“I’m on a mission to make sure you have fun and meet people. It’s frosh week of your first year of college. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It should involve copious amounts of alcohol and at least one morning with your head in the toilet.” I answer her with an eye roll, but that doesn’t dissuade her. Turning to face me, she throws her arms over my shoulders. “Livie. You’re my little sister and I love you. Nothing about your life has been normal these past seven years. Tonight, you are going to live like a normal, irresponsible eighteen-year-old.”

Licking my lips, I counter with, “It’s illegal for an eighteen-year-old to drink.” I know my argument is futile against my sister, but I don’t care.

“Ah yes. You are right.” Sliding a hand under her toga to reach into the pocket of her shorts, she pulls out what looks like a driver’s license. “And that’s why you are twenty-one-year-old Patricia from Oklahoma if the cops show up.”

I should have known my sister would have all her bases covered.

The music begins to pick up tempo, and my knees move along with the beat. “You’re going to dance with me soon!” Kacey shouts as she hands me two more shots. How many is that now? I’ve lost count but my tongue feels funny. Wrapping her arm around my neck, my sister pulls me down so we’re cheek-to-cheek. Okay, ready?” she says, holding her phone out in front of us. I hear, “Smile!” as the flash goes off. “For Stayner.”

Aha! Proof!

“Cheers!” Kacey taps her Dixie cup into mine and then tips her head and sucks it back, quickly followed by the other. “Oh, blue ones! I’ll be back in a sec!” Like a golden retriever chasing a squirrel, Kacey tears off after a guy balancing a large round tray on his shoulder, oblivious to the heads turning as she passes. Between her fierce red hair, striking face, and muscular curves, my sister always turns heads. I doubt she even notices it. She definitely isn’t uncomfortable about it.

I sigh as I watch her. I know what she’s doing. Aside from getting me drunk, of course. She’s trying to distract me from the sad part about today. That my dad is not here on the one day that he should be. On the day that I start at Princeton. This was always his dream, after all. He was a proud graduate and he wanted both of his girls to go here. Kacey’s declining grades after the accident didn’t allow for that possibility, leaving it to me. So I’m living his dream—my dream, too—and he’s not here to see me do it.

I take a deep breath and silently accept whatever fate—and by fate I mean Jell-O shots—has in store for me tonight. I’m certainly less nervous than I was when I first stepped through those doors. And the buzzing atmosphere is pretty cool. I’m at my first college party. There’s nothing wrong with it or with me being here and enjoying it, I remind myself.

With a shooter in my hand, I close my eyes and let my body just feel the throbbing beat of the music. Let loose, have fun. That’s what Stayner always tells me. Tipping my head back, I squish the bottom of the Dixie cup and bring it to my lips, sliding my tongue out to accept the wiggly mess into my mouth. I feel like a pro.

Except for one amateur mistake—I should never have closed my eyes.

If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have looked like an easy drunk chick. And I would have seen him coming.

The tangy orange flavor has just touched my taste buds when a strong arm hooks around my waist from the front and pulls me away from the safety of my wall. My eyes fly open wide as my back presses against someone’s chest, one muscular arm snaking around my body. In the next heartbeat—not mine, because mine has stopped beating altogether—a hand seizes both my chin and the Dixie cup against my lips and tilts my head back so it’s facing up and at an angle. I catch a whiff of musky cologne a split second before a guy leans over and his tongue slips against mine, twirling around and coaxing it a little before drawing the Jell-O away. It all happens so fast that I have no chance to think or react or put my tongue back in my mouth. Or bite the intruding tongue off.

It’s all over in a second, leaving me shooterless, breathless, and gripping the wall for support as my knees shake. It takes me a few seconds to regain composure, and when I do, my brain processes the loud roar of approval behind me. I spin around to find a group of tall, brawny guys—all in togas strategically wrapped to show off well-defined chests—cheering and slapping the guy on the back as if he’s just won a race. I can’t see his face. All I can see is a mess of wavy dark brown—almost black—hair and the solid ridges of his back.

I’m not sure how long I’m standing there with my mouth hanging open, staring, but one of the guys in the group finally notices. He casts a furtive look at the Jell-O thief, jutting his head in my direction.

What the hell am I going to say? Without being too obvious, I frantically search the room for my sister’s fiery red hair. Where is she? Gone, leaving me here to deal with . . . My breath catches as I watch the Jell-O thief turn with slow, leisurely movement to face me dead on.

This guy’s tongue was in my mouth? This guy . . .this tall, giant Adonis with dark wavy hair, tanned skin, and a body to tempt a blind nun . . . had his tongue in my mouth.

Oh God. The sweat is back! All those weeks of speed-dating for nothing! I feel the trickles—multiple ones—run down between my shoulder blades as his coffee-colored eyes do a quick scan down and up my body before settling on my face. And then one side of his mouth curves up and he offers me an arrogant smirk. “Not bad.”

I’m still not sure what my first words would have been to him. But then he had to go and say those two little words with that cocky little grin . . .

So I haul back and punch him in the jaw.

I’ve only punched one other person before. My sister’s boyfriend, Trent, and that was because he broke Kacey’s heart. It took weeks for my hand to heal. Since then, Trent taught me how to throw a punch, with my thumb wrapped around the outside of my knuckles and my wrist tilted downward.

I really love Trent right now.

I hear the howls of laughter from around us as the Jell-O thief rubs his jaw, wincing and adjusting it this way and that to test it out. That’s how I know that it hurt. If I weren’t so rattled by the fact that this guy had just forcefully French-kissed me, I’d probably have a giant grin on my face. He deserved it. He didn’t just steal my shooter. He stole my first kiss.

He takes a step toward me and I instinctively retreat, only to find my back pressed up against the wall once again. A sly smile creeps over his mouth, as if knowing that I’m cornered and pleased by it. Closing the distance, his arms stretch out, his hands pressing up against the wall on either side of my face, his broad body, his towering height, his entire presence effectively boxing me in. And I suddenly can’t breathe. This is suffocating. I try peering around him, looking for my sister, but I can’t see anything past flesh and muscle. And I don’t know where to look because no matter where I do, he’s there. Finally, I hazard a glance up. Heated eyes as dark as midnight bore into my face. I swallow, my stomach doing several full somersaults.

“That’s one hell of a swing for someone so . . .” He moves one hand down and closer to my arm. I feel a thumb graze along my bicep. “Female.” I shiver responsively and a visual flashes through my mind—a shaking rabbit, cornered by a wolf. He cocks his head and I catch curiosity flitter past. “So you’re shy . . .but not too shy to punch me across the face.” There’s a pause, and then he offers me another crooked smile laced with arrogance. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself. You looked like you were really enjoying that shooter. I had to taste it for myself.”

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