Lexi Pendergraft has given up on finding love after a disastrous encounter with her last boyfriend. Instead, she focuses on two things: One, setting up a summer program for underprivileged middle-school aged students. And the second, getting to the bottom of her brother Reed’s recent strange behavior. His secret is destroying his relationship with his fiancée Caroline, and Lexi will do anything to help him save it. Especially after he gave up his dream to give Lexi a chance at a semi-normal college experience, something her parents threatened to steal from her after her rape a year ago.
Ben Masterson is determined to make it through his final semester of his senior year at Southern University. After recently losing his full ride scholarship, he’s suffering from sleep deprivation while trying to keep up with his mechanical engineering courses and working three part time jobs. He thinks he’s lucked out getting a job in the university math lab. The only problem is his boss—Reed Pendergraft.
As part of a role in a community theater play, Lexi wears a black wig and feels a confidence she hasn’t experienced in over a year. When she wears it to a bar close to the theater, she doesn’t think Ben, a bartender there, recognizes her. While Ben’s intrigued about what she’s up to, he’s smart enough to stay far away from his overprotective boss’s sister. Until fate forces him to help her, but why won’t she tell him her real identity?
Now that we’re here on the dance floor, now that she’s in my arms, everything flees from my head and all I can think about is holding her. I breathe in her scent, a combination of apples and honey, and I realize I’ll never smell this scent again without thinking about her. I’m the furthest you can get from a romantic, so the thought catches me by surprise.
“Thank you,” she finally says.
Her words bring me back to reality. “Why are you with Tina when you obviously don’t want to be?”
“It’s a long story.” She sighs and rests her cheek against my chest.
Her touch is electrifying and I suck in a deep breath. What the fuck is wrong with me? “I can wait you out all night,” I say, “but I’m not letting you go back until you tell me.” I’m not sure this is the right way to handle it, not after watching her threaten Tattoo Guy. She obviously bites when backed into a corner, but she has to know that I’m on her side.
She relaxes into me a bit and stumbles. My grip tightens on her waist to keep her upright.
“Sorry,” she says. “Tina tried to get me drunk before we even left her apartment.” She looks up at me, her blue eyes wide with gratitude. “Thanks for not putting very much rum in my drink.”
I stare down at her, lost in the depth of her eyes. I give myself a mental shake. “You seem too classy for Tina and her group, so what’s this all about?”
She continues to study my face as though she’s trying to determine my trustworthiness. “She has something I want. Apparently, I have something she wants. Mutual need is the cornerstone of all business transactions.” Her face has changed with this statement, as though she’s weary.
“I know her from working with her in the math lab. Maybe I can help you and save you the grief.”
Hope flickers in her eyes before resignation replaces it. “If it were that easy, I’d jump at the chance.”
She won’t tell me what she wants, so I decide to find out what Tina wants. “So she’s giving you something in exchange for getting you drunk?” I ask. “That seems bizarre, even for someone like her.”
Alexa looks away, her cheeks turning pink. “She thinks I’m repressed and wants to loosen me up. Why she cares, I have no idea. I’m not sure she knows either, other than that it’s a game to her.”
“What else does she want?”
The pink in her cheeks darkens. “I have to make out with some guy tonight. She has to see it.”
“Why?” I knew Tina was sleazy, but this is unbelievable. Then a new thought bursts into my mind. “Who with? That guy you just told off?” My rage catches me by surprise.
She shakes her head. “No. I insisted it had to be a guy of my choosing. If it was him…” her voice softens. “I want this information, but I don’t want it that bad.”
I place a finger under her chin and tilt it up so I can study her face. “What makes this information so valuable to you that you’ll go through with so much humiliation to get it?”
She hesitates. “Have you ever loved someone so much you’d give up everything for them?”
Have I? No, it’s a sad fact, but there it is. I never really loved Sabrina. She forced the relationship on me, not that I fought it after we slept together at the frat party. She was good in bed and it was easy in the beginning, before her true colors started showing through the cracks of her perfect persona. Later, I ignored the neediness and the constant bitching, expecting her to break up with me when I no longer seemed to fulfill her expectations of partying and socializing. And then when I ended it, I paid the price for all those months of complacency. But when I look into Alexa’s face, I realize I want that kind of love for someone. The all-encompassing, all-consuming, you can’t think about anyone or anything else kind of love. This girl makes me think that kind of love is possible, especially with someone like her. And that scares the shit out of me. “No.”
“Neither have I. I’d like to think I do, but honestly I don’t think I would have done what he did for me. He gave up everything and this is my chance to make it up to him. So one night of humiliation is nothing. I can endure it to help him.”
My chest constricts and I feel like I’m drowning.
She loves someone else.
About Denise Grover Swank:
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Denise Grover Swank was born in Kansas City, Missouri and lived in the area until she was nineteen. Then she became a nomadic gypsy, living in five cities, four states and ten houses over the course of ten years before she moved back to her roots. She speaks English and smattering of Spanish and Chinese which she learned through an intensive Nick Jr. immersion period. Her hobbies include witty Facebook comments (in own her mind) and dancing in her kitchen with her children. (Quite badly if you believe her offspring.) Hidden talents include the gift of justification and the ability to drink massive amounts of caffeine and still fall asleep within two minutes. Her lack of the sense of smell allows her to perform many unspeakable tasks. She has six children and hasn’t lost her sanity. Or so she leads you to believe.
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