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Too Sweet: Chapter 13


“I KNOW YOU DON’T LIKE FLYING, but maybe you could come watch?” Conor asks, shielding his eyes from the spring sun.

It’s almost the end of April. The temperature outside finally holds in the low seventies, and coats and cardigans are no longer required.

“If you promise you won’t try and convince me to jump, I’ll watch.”

The Hayes clan is skydiving on Friday, raising money for Monica’s Charity. This time, she chose to help a women’s shelter in Newport. Nico immediately pledged ten thousand for every Hayes and plus one who jumps.

Cody hands me a small tube of cookie dough ice cream he bought at the cafeteria. “It’d end with you puking all over the plane. Don’t worry. We won’t push. Just come and watch. I’m pretty sure Shawn will cry. You don’t want to miss that.”

“Why is he jumping if he’s scared?”

“Ego,” Conor says, stuffing his mouth with a spoonful of my ice cream. “We’ve got bets going on who’ll bail. You want in?”

“I bet you’ll be the first one out of that plane, and you…” I point at Cody, “…will land somewhere you’re not supposed to.”

“Nico will be the first one out of the plane,” Colt predicts, then scowls at something behind my back.

I turn to see Justin Montgomery making his way across the field, eyes on me.

“Not again,” Cody mutters, ripping the label off his coke bottle. “I don’t fucking like this, Mia. Don’t you think it’s odd they all suddenly want to take you out?”

“I don’t like it, either,” Colt huffs. “I could understand Finn, but you’ve been hit on by three different guys today alone. Something’s off, Bug.”

“You’re overreacting,” Conor drawls, laying back on the bleachers. “I overheard Finn talking to Ryan this morning. He sounded pretty bummed you shot him down.”

“And suddenly, every guy wants to date her?” Cody hisses quietly, glaring at Justin, who’s making his way up the bleachers like he’s climbing the stairs. “They didn’t know she existed before our Spring Break party.”

“Exactly.” Conor throws his arm over his eyes. Unaware that Justin is now within earshot. “Now they do. She’s polite, smart, and really pretty, don’t you agree? Why wouldn’t they want to date her?”

“I agree,” Justin says, bro-shaking hands with the triplets. “Come on, Mia, we need to talk.”

I pull my eyebrows together. “Why? Is something wrong?”

“You can talk here,” Colt adds, folding his arms.

“No, we can’t. Come on, sweetheart. Five minutes.”

Cody clamps his jaw, grinding his teeth when I get up, following Justin down the steps and around the corner, where he stops at the mouth of the tunnel leading to the changing rooms.

He bends his knee, propping his foot against the wall, gaze locked on me as he rubs his neck before pushing a sharp breath down his nose. “I’m risking my head here, so you gotta promise this stays between us.”

I don’t like the sound of that, but I nod, waiting for whatever he has to say.

“You’ve been marked, Mia.”

“Marked? What does that mean?”

“It means you’ve got a big red X painted on your back courtesy of Brandon. Remember when I told you he’s getting really creative? Well, the game’s afoot. The guys who asked you out? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but they don’t want to date you. They want to fuck you. The first one who does wins the money.”

“Money?” I choke, feeling as if he smacked something hard against my temple. “What money?”

“You didn’t take Brandon’s deal, so he put five grand up for the first guy who gets you in bed.”

Shame mixes with disappointment. Tears immediately prickle my eyes. “This makes no sense… he wanted me for himself, why would he—”

“My guess is he hopes you’ll give up once the guys start getting too forward. The prize is internal, limited to the guys on the team, but you know shit spreads like wildfire here. It won’t be long before this gets out, and then who knows how many guys you’ll have to deal with.” He rakes his hand through his hair, pushing away from the wall. “I told you I was trying to do you a solid. My offer stands. Brandon will find a way to break you sooner or later, so just think about getting ahead of him.”

I scoff, swatting the first tears away. “You think offering to punch my V card to spite Brandon is doing me a solid? If you want to help, lie. Tell him I caved. Tell him we had sex.”

Justin lets his eyes rove my body. “I wish we did. I won’t play the game. I don’t care about the money, but I won’t lie.” He lifts his hand, pushing a wayward lock of my hair behind my ear, then wipes my cheeks with his thumbs. “It’s just sex, Mia. Think about it. And maybe don’t tell the triplets about the prize. I have a feeling they’ll go throwing punches, and that’ll only rile Brandon up.”

He drops his hand, walking away, leaving me alone and shaking. I take a few deep breaths to calm down, ignoring the hot ball of hurt burning my stomach.

“What did he want?” Cody clips when I sit down beside him, gathering my things. “He asked you out?”

“Yes, but don’t worry, I said no.”

“Where are you going?” Conor asks, hauling himself around to sit up.

“Library. Don’t wait for me. I’ll take a cab home.”


I peer up from the music sheet at the sound of rain pattering against the windows. It’s dark outside. I didn’t notice it get dark. After the chat with Justin, I left the triplets and went home, ditching my last lectures to play piano at home.

“There’s a storm rolling in,” Toby says, and I damn near jump out of my skin.

I turn around, finding him on the couch with a sketchpad in hand and an empty cup of coffee on the table.

“You sure get in the zone when you play. I’ve been here for an hour now. I even asked if you were hungry.”

“Sorry, it’s been a long day.”

“It’s cool. Turns out, listening to you play fuels my creativity.” He turns the sketchpad, showing me a tattoo design. A typewriter with strings of words rising like smoke and different flowers complementing the picture. “What do you think?”

“Is that for Aisha?”

“Yeah, she wants a whole sleeve. This is just the start.”

“I think you’re very talented.”

He smiles humbly, and we both look out the window when a flash of lightning clips outside like a camera flash.

“That’s my cue,” I say, a jolt of excitement heating the blood in my veins.

Toby shouts something behind me as I bolt to my room, but the bang of my door closing cuts him off. I pull a hoodie from the wardrobe, throwing it over my dress. It’s gray, five sizes too big, and not even mine.

I got it from James, a driver on my dad’s team, when I went to see the race in Austin last year. We sat outside until the early morning hours in front of a dying fire, toasting marshmallows and drinking champagne with a few other drivers. The air was chilly, so James pulled his hoodie off and forced it on me despite my weak protests. I never gave it back.

“I’m going out!” I yell into the kitchen not a minute later, pulling the hair on top of my head into a ponytail. Then I slip on a pair of white sneakers, grab the keys, and close the door behind me.

I breathe in the fresh, crisp air, feeling giddy like I’m floating out of my body. I pull the hoodie up, heading down the driveway, turning right at the bottom, toward the beach. The rain drenches my clothes within minutes, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s refreshing. Purifying, somehow.

A low rumble comes from the seaside, and seconds later, another bolt of lightning cuts across the sky, illuminating the black canvas above with stark bluish whiteness.

The beauty of the spectacle forces my legs to work harder. I don’t want to miss another second of the show. I break into a jog, trying to avoid the puddles initially, but a few hundred yards later I no longer care. I sprint, hearing another low rumble.

Halfway across the street the piercing sound of a horn makes me jump. Too impatient to stop, I wave my hand in apology and keep going.

Darkness settles around me when I reach the sandy beach a few minutes later. I made it in time. A bright, long burst of lightning tears through the sky, hitting the ocean far away, jolting zestful energy through my bones.

I kick my shoes off, enjoying the wet sand under my bare feet, then climb the lifeguard station and sit on the floor under a narrow overhanging roof.

The wind grows in strength, screaming in my ears as the rain slams against the foaming, angry sea. White-crested waves claw at the shore, reaching further inland where the sand dances under the attack of heavy raindrops.

It’s reassuring to watch something so sinister and dangerous and not feel an ounce of fear… funny because my heart almost bursts at the sound of his voice.


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