Foreplay Page 2

“I wouldn’t say scary . . . exactly.”

He chuckled softly. “Sure you would.”

Silence hovered between us for a moment. My gaze swept over him. The comfortable-looking T-shirt and well-worn jeans were casual. Guys wore them every day on campus, but he didn’t look casual. He didn’t look like any guy I ever saw around campus. He looked like trouble. The kind that girls lost their heads over. Suddenly my chest felt too tight.

“Well, thanks again.” Offering up a small wave I ducked back inside my car. He watched me turn the key. Thankfully smoke didn’t billow up from the hood.

Driving away, I refused to risk a glance back in my rearview mirror. If Emerson had been with me, I’m sure she wouldn’t have left without his phone number.

Eyes on the road again, I felt perversely glad she wasn’t there.

Chapter 2

I nudged the door open with my shoulder, my hands overflowing with a popcorn bag and bottled pink lemonade. I walked into the adjoining room and sank down onto Georgia’s swivel chair. As usual, Emerson’s was covered in clothes.

ABBA throbbed on the air—Emerson’s signature getting-ready-to-go-out music. Whenever I heard it blaring through our thin walls, I knew preparations had started.

Setting my bottle down on her desk amid her mess of notebooks and books, I shoveled a fistful of popcorn into my mouth and watched as she shimmied into a tight miniskirt. The crazy black-and-white zigzag print looked good on her tiny frame. I winced, envisioning myself wearing it. Not a pretty picture. I wasn’t a five-foot-tall, hundred-pound spinner.

“Where are you going tonight?”


“Not your usual playground.”

“Freemont’s has gotten too full of frat brats.”

“I thought that was your thing.”

“Last year maybe. I’m over them. This year I’m more into . . .” She angled her head, examining herself in the mirror that hung on the door. “ . . . men, I guess. No more boys for me.” She flashed me a grin. “Wanna come?”

I shook my head. “I have class tomorrow.”

“Yeah. At like nine thirty.” She shook her head with disgust. “Please. My class is at eight.”

“Which you will probably miss.”

She winked. “Prof never takes attendance. I’ll get the notes from someone else.”

Likely some hapless freshman who got tongue-tied when Emerson approached. He’d probably offer her a kidney if she asked.

Georgia entered the room, wrapped in a terry-cloth robe and holding her shower caddy. “Hey, Pepper. You coming out with us tonight?”

My hand froze in the bag of popcorn. “You’re going, too?” That would be unusual. Georgia spent most nights with her boyfriend.

She nodded. “Yeah, Harris is studying for a big test tomorrow, so I figured why not? Mulvaney’s is pretty cool. Beats Freemont’s.”

Emerson shot me an I-told-you-so look. “Sure you don’t want to join us?” she asked, sliding a turquoise top over her head. It was sexy. One-shouldered and hugged her like a second skin. Something I would never wear.

“I’ll leave the wild nights to you two.”

Emerson snorted. “I don’t know how wild we can get with Georgia here. She’s practically an old married lady.”

“Am not!” Georgia unwrapped the damp towel from her head and threw it at Emerson.

Emerson grinned and snagged some popcorn from my bag. She wolfed down a mouthful and then licked at her buttery fingers, nodding at me. “You’re the one who should be going.”

“You should go,” Georgia seconded. “You’re single. Live a little. Have fun. Flirt.”

“It’s all right.” I shook my head. “I’ll get my vicarious thrills through the two of you.”

“Oh, be honest. It’s because of Hunter,” Emerson said accusingly as she stood in front of her mirror and applied product into her short dark hair. She tugged and arranged the strands until they stuck out at different angles, creating a wild, choppy look that surrounded her round face. She looked like some kind of cool pixie.

I shrugged. It was no secret that my heart belonged to Hunter Montgomery. I’d been in love with him since I was twelve.

A familiar ring tone trilled from my room. I thrust my popcorn bag at Emerson and rushed through the adjoining door.

Landing on my bed with a bounce, I snatched my phone from where I’d left it, glimpsing the caller’s name before answering. “Hey, Lila.”

“Oh my God, Pepper, you’re never going to believe this!”

I smiled at the sound of my best friend’s voice. She attended school across the country in California, but every time we talked it was like no time had passed. “What happened?”

“I just got off the phone with my brother.”

My heart squeezed at the mention of Hunter. It was no secret that I was infatuated with him. Crazy as it seemed, he was part of the reason I applied to Dartford. Not that it wasn’t a great school. When a little voice in the back of my head reminded me that there were other stellar schools out there, I chose to ignore it. “And?” I prompted.

“He and Paige broke up.”

My hand tightened around the phone. “Are you serious?” Hunter had met Paige his sophomore year and they’d been glued together ever since. I was beginning to fear that she would become the future Mrs. Montgomery. “Why?”

“I dunno . . . something about them wanting to date other people. He said it was a mutual split, but who cares? The point is my brother is single for the first time in two years. Now’s your chance.”

Now was my chance.

Excitement hummed through me for a few seconds before dying a swift death. Then the panic set in. Hunter was free. Finally. I’d been waiting for this moment forever, but I wasn’t ready. How could I get him to notice me? As far as Hunter was concerned I was his little sister’s best friend. End of story.

“Oh! I have to run,” Lila was saying in my ear. “I have rehearsal, but let’s talk more later.”

“Yeah.” I nodded as if she could see me. “I’ll call you later.”

I sat on my bed for a long moment, the phone in my limp hand. Emerson’s and Georgia’s laughter drifted from the neighboring room, mingling with “Dancing Queen.” It was a grim moment. The reality I had longed for had finally come. And I didn’t have a clue what to do.

Emerson pushed open my cracked door. She dropped down in my chair. “Hey. I’m about to finish off your popcorn.” She shook the bag at me. Her smile slipped when she saw my face. “What’s wrong?”

“They broke up,” I murmured, my fingers playing about my lips, tapping against them with a nervous energy.

“What? Who?”

“He’s single. Hunter is single.” I shook my head like I still could not quite believe it.

Her eyes widened. “Georgia, get in here! Quick!”

Georgia appeared, towel-drying her hair. “What’s going on?”

“Hunter is single,” Emerson explained.

“Shut up! No more Paige?”

I nodded.

“Well. Now’s your chance.” Emerson bounced onto the bed beside me. “What’s the plan?”

I blinked at her and held out a hand helplessly. “I don’t have a plan.” The plan was for him to fall in love with me. That was the dream. That’s what happened in romance novels. Somehow. Some way. That was supposed to happen. I never quite knew how it was going to happen. Only that it would.

“What should I do?” I looked at them helplessly. “Drive over to his apartment and knock on his door and declare myself to him?”

Georgia cocked her head to the side. “Um. I’m going to go with no.”

“Yeah. Too forward.” Emerson nodded as though I’d just made a viable suggestion. “Not enough mystery. Men like a bit of the chase.”

Georgia rolled her eyes and snorted. “This coming from you.”

Emerson looked affronted. “Hey, I know how to play the game. When I want them to chase me, they do.”

That was just it. I didn’t know how to play the game. I didn’t know how to do anything to entice a guy. I didn’t flirt. Didn’t date. Didn’t make out or shack up with random guys like other girls.

I buried my head in my hands. Why hadn’t I thought about this sooner? A little experience under my belt might help me win over Hunter. I was pretty sure I was a bad kisser. At least that’s what Franco Martinelli told everyone in tenth grade after we made out behind the cafeteria. Well, if one kiss and a quick grope under my sweater before I shoved his hand away constituted making out.

“I don’t know how to play the game,” I confessed. “How am I going to attract Hunter? I haven’t even kissed a guy since high school.” I held up a finger and looked at my two friends desperately. “And just one guy. I’ve kissed one guy.”

My two suitemates stared at me.

“One guy?” Georgia echoed after what felt like the world’s longest silence.

“Tragic.” Emerson shook her head like I’d just cited some horrible world hunger statistic. She snapped her fingers, smiling brightly. “But nothing we can’t fix.”

I frowned. “What do you mean?”

“All you need is a little experience.”

My eyes widened. Emerson had uttered this so simply, and I guess for her it was. She had no shortage of confidence and no shortage of admirers.

“You’re going out with us tonight,” Georgia announced, locking eyes with Emerson. They nodded at each other as if reaching some form of unspoken agreement.

“Yes, you are. And you’re going to kiss someone.” Emerson stood and stared down at me, her hands propped on her slim hips. “Someone hot who knows what he’s doing.”

“What?” I blinked rapidly. “I don’t think kissing some random—”

“Oh, not random. You’ll need a pro.”

My mouth sagged. It took me a moment to recover my voice. “A prostitute?”

Emerson shoved my shoulder. “Oh, be serious, Pepper. No! I’m talking about a guy with a well-earned rep. A good kisser. Someone to, you know . . . teach you foreplay.”

I eyed her uneasily. “Who?”

“Well. I was targeting him myself tonight, but I’ll stand down for a good cause. You can have him.”

“Have who?”

“The bartender at Mulvaney’s. Annie down the hall made out with him last week. Carrie, too. They said he’s wet-your-panties hot.”

Georgia nodded, her eyes earnest with agreement. “I’ve heard some girls in my philosophy class talk about him, too.”

“So, what? I’m supposed to just waltz into Mulvaney’s and approach some man-whore bartender and say, ‘Hey, will you make out with me, please?’”

“No, silly. Just make yourself available. He’s a guy. He’ll rise to the bait.” Emerson waggled her eyebrows. “Pun intended.”

“Stop.” I tossed a pillow at her, laughing miserably. “I can’t do that.”

“Why don’t you just come out with us?” Georgia coaxed. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want. No pressure.”

I gawked at Georgia. I almost expected this harebrained scheme from Emerson, but Georgia was the steady one. Practical and conservative.

“But”—Emerson held up one slim finger—“if we scope out this bartender and you like what you see, you can say hello. Nothing wrong with that, right?”

I shrugged uneasily. “Yeah. I guess so.” Staring at my two friends, I felt myself buckle beneath their persuasion. “Fine. I’ll go. But I’m not promising to hook up with anyone.”

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