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Authors: Emma Hart

The Love Game (6 page)

BOOK: The Love Game
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“You can't hate him that much, Mads.” Megan turns. “Can you?”

I sigh, looking at the carpet. “You have no idea. I wasn't joking when I said he was everything I hated.”

“Then don't do it.” Kay spears me with her gaze. “Give up. Quit.” She shrugs a shoulder.

“What?” I frown.

“If it's that bad, then back out. We won't hold it against you, but it'll be you wondering whether or not it would have worked.”

“Don't do your reverse psychology trash on me, Kay.” I sniff, standing and moving to my closet. I pull out a long, white top with a floral design and grab my white gladiator sandals. “You all know I won't give up. I'll just have to suffer for your amusement.”

I turn and storm into the bathroom to get changed. Quit. I might be annoyed I have to do this, but I'm not going to give up. I said I would do it, and I will.

I change quickly, brushing my hair and securing it into a ponytail with a band. A quick brush of mascara on my lashes, a hint of bronzer along my cheekbones followed by a slick of gloss on my lips, and I decide it's as good as it's gonna get.

Kay whistles when I walk back into our room.

“Sexy lady!” She winks and I crack a smile at her.

“Good enough?” I spin and bow.

“Perfect,” Megan declares. “Braden won't be able to resist you.”

I move to the mirror and slightly tease my bangs. That's what I'm worried about.

A horn beeps outside and Lila squeals, running to the window. “He's here!”

“Great,” I mutter, grabbing my purse. “Have fun without me, and try not to think of me too much, yeah?”

“You'll be fine, baby girl.” Kay grins at me. “Shake your ass, flick your hair, and bat those eyelashes a few times. Do that and this is in the bag!”

“Right.” I sigh, waving over my shoulder as I shut the door behind me. I skip down the stairs, not wanting to prolong this “date”.

I can see him through the window of the main door. His hands are in the pockets of another pair of washed-out dark jeans, a black top covering his muscular torso. I open the door, and he smiles at me, his blue eyes brightening under his blonde hair.

I get why girls fall over him. That smile is disarming.

“Maddie.” He says my name softly. “You look beautiful.”

He's laying it on thick tonight, apparently. “Thank you. You don't look so bad yourself.”

“You mean you can deal being seen in public with me?” He raises his eyebrows, and I smile, stepping into the evening sunshine.

“Maybe. Although, be warned, if we see anyone we know I
will
hide.” I follow him to his car – a black Jetta. Of course. I bet he doesn't foot the bill, though.

He opens the door for me, and I climb in, sinking into the leather seats. Stylish.

“Nice car,” I compliment as he gets in next to me.

“Thanks.” He grins. “Graduation present. I worked hard for this baby.” He pats the dashboard and starts the engine, pulling away from my block smoothly.

“I'm sure you did,” I mutter, looking out of the window.

“What?” He glances at me quickly.

“Nothing.” I wish I'd backed out earlier. In three days I've had two chances to throw my hands up and say “stuff it,” and I haven't. Why? Because I'm probably borderline clinically insane. Failing that, I'm just damn stupid.

Hearing from Pearce yesterday has just reshaped Braden in my mind. When I look at him, I see all the things my brother did to my old best friend. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I won't think of that today. I won't think of how I saw him destroy her and our friendship in the process.

“You look like you're thinking too hard, Angel.” Braden shifts in his seat, and I realize we've pulled up to the bowling alley. I turn to him.

“Just thinking about my family, that's all,” I reply, unclipping the seatbelt. I hear his door open and close then mine opens. He's playing the gentleman game. “Thank you,” I say and accept the hand he gives me.

“I'm sorry,” he says, locking the car and putting a hand on my back. “I forget you're from Brooklyn. It must be hard being away from your family.”

What's left of it. “Sometimes. Sometimes I'm glad of the freedom I have now.”

“I bet.” He smiles down at me. “Do you speak to them much?”

“Is this twenty questions?” I'm amused.

“Would you be annoyed if I said yes?”

“Not at all.” I let out a small laugh. “Last I heard, a girl was lucky if Braden Carter asked her name.”

He smirks down at me and pulls me towards the counter. “Then you should consider yourself
very
lucky.” He looks up at the girl behind the counter who beams at him, twirling her hair round her finger and sticking out her chest.

He's clearly on a date. Do these girls have no morals?

Not that I'm bothered. It's just sickening.

“I have a lane booked for six thirty. Under Carter?” he says, ignoring her obvious attempts at getting his attention. Woah, he's good.

“Of course, we have you booked in here. In fact, I think I took the call.” Boobs beams even wider and crosses his name off the list with a flourish. Ugh. Go look in a mirror and practice being a Barbie doll. She's practically a life-size one anyway.

“I'm sure you did.” Braden smiles politely, albeit tightly at her. It doesn't look forced. Whoa, hold on there. Could Mr. Playboy hate all that attention? Surely not. Another glance at him. Yep. He's definitely not impressed. I file that bit of information away for the dissection of the date tomorrow with the girls.
Interesting.

“Maddie?” He taps my side. “What size shoes do you need?”

“Oh, um, a seven, please.” I smile sweetly at Boobs. She gives me an icy look and grabs a pair of shoes. I look at the size when she slides them to me. “They're a nine,” I tell her. “I said
seven
.”

She snatches them back and passes me another pair. Sevens.

“Thank you.” I give her another sweet smile and follow Braden to the seats opposite to change our shoes.

“Feisty,” he whispers when we sit down.

“She gave me the wrong size.” I put my socks on from my purse. “Plus I'm pretty sure she's jealous.”

“Oh, this again?” He winks at me. I roll my eyes and hand him my sandals as we stand.

“Try not to get sucked in by her chest when you hand them back.”

“Why, Maddie.” He steps closer to me, hooking a finger under my chin and tilting it upwards. “Are
you
jealous?”

I bat my eyelashes twice. “Would you be annoyed if I said yes?”

He laughs loudly and runs his thumb across my jaw. “No, Angel, I wouldn't be annoyed. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'd like it if you were jealous. That, and I can see you and jealousy being crazy sexy. We'd probably have to leave if you were.”

He hands the shoes to Boobs and comes back to me, sliding his arm round my waist.

“That would be unfortunate,” I whisper, biting my lip to stop myself laughing.

“Not from where I'm standing,” he says into my ear in a husky voice.

Play. The. Game.

“Then I might just be jealous.”

“You are?” He raises his eyebrows.

“Yes, but there's a bowling ball over there with my name on it and a guy standing next to me whose ass I have to kick. So yes, leaving would be unfortunate.” I spin from his hold and walk backwards, grinning. His lips curl up in an amused smile, his eyes sparkling.

“Then let's make a deal. If you kick my ass, I get to touch yours.”

Here we go. Round one, ding ding.

“Braden, you don't lose then,” I say innocently, my hand on the blue ball I always use.

“I know.” He stops in front of me, and I bite my top lip. He looks down at my mouth. “I don't like to lose.”

I release my lip and my heart pounds. Is that a challenge, or a promise? “Neither do I,” I whisper. “So prepare to get your ass kicked.”

I haul the ball from the stand and turn to our lane. I feel him tug my hair as he comes up behind me.

“I'm going to enjoy touching your ass, Maddie.”

“I'm going to enjoy kicking
your
ass, Braden.”

“Feisty,” he repeats, grinning again.

I smirk at him and step up to take the first bowl. In a roundabout way, this is actually kinda fun.

 

Chapter Ten - Braden

 

Maddie reaches up and tugs her hair from its holder. Her fiery red curls fan out around her shoulders, settling with one last bounce down her back. The end of her hair is inches from her ass – the ass I got to touch earlier, per winning conditions.

She won, but I did get to touch that pert little butt, so I'd call that a win-win situation.

“So,” I begin as we walk across the sand. “You never answered my question earlier.”

“What question?” She looks at me with those big green eyes of hers.

“Do you speak to your family much?”

“My dad and I talk about once a week, usually on Sunday. It's become kind of a habit. My brother? Not so much.” She shrugs a shoulder.

“Aren't you close?”

She snorts, shaking her head. “About as close as two opposite poles.”

“What about your mom? Do you ever speak?”

She stops by the edge of the water, drawing a line in the sand with her toe. Her eyes mist over a little, and I move next to her. She looks up, and there's pure, raw pain in her eyes. Pain I can't even begin to understand.

“My mom died three years ago,” she whispers softly, dropping her eyes again. “She was a victim of a drive-by shooting.”

Shit. “I'm sorry,” I say lamely. What the fuck do you say to that?

“Don't be.” Maddie looks at me. “Did you shoot her? No. It's not your fault. Don't apologize for what someone else did.”

I reach up and tuck her hair behind her ear. What is it about her hair?

“I'm sorry you had to go through that.”

Her eyes are startlingly clear as she takes in my words. She doesn't flinch, doesn't cry,
and doesn't break. Is her heart made of stone?

“So am I,” she finally replies. “But it's done. There's no point in dwelling on what could have, should have, or would have been, because that doesn't make it any better for anyone. In fact, it probably makes it worse. She's gone. I can't change that, I can only live with it. And I do,” she continues, quieter. “I live with it every day, and I'm always gonna miss her, but just because she's gone doesn't mean I can't be the person I'm meant to be.”

Shit, that's insightful. What do you say to that? How is this little girl able to render me speechless? I have an answer for everything.

Granted, it's usually a swear word or sex-related, but it's still an answer.

I slide my hand from her shoulder down her arm. I slip my fingers between hers and squeeze gently. “You're really strong, you know that?”

“No. I'm just me.”

“Doesn't change it. You are strong.”

“What about you?” she says suddenly, the mist clearing from her eyes. That's all I'll get out of her today. But if she opens up, she trusts me, right? That is what it means? And trust leads to love. Where is Megan when I need her?

Shit. I'm a prize dick for thinking about that shit when she's just bared her soul to me.

“Not much to tell.” We start walking again, our clasped hands swinging slightly between us. “Grew up in Palm Springs with Megan, lived the good, easy life, then spread my wings and came to college.”

“With Megan.”

“Yeah. We made a pact we'd go to college together. I'm only two months older than her, and we saw each other every day as we grew up. She's like my sister.”

Maddie nods, and I can tell she understands. It's a relief because it'll make the whole “dating” thing easier, but not even the guys get why I'm so protective over her. Touch her and you die kinda protective.

“I think it's nice you're so close,” she says. “I miss having that closeness with someone. Maybe I'll find it again one day.”

“I'm sure you will. Who knows? We might be that close one day.” God, I really am laying it on thick today.

She turns up to me, a smirk on her lips and her eyebrows quirked. “Presumptuous.”

“I prefer hopeful.” I grin. She laughs and shakes her head. “Seriously.”

“Okay, Braden.” She's still shaking her head. “It'll be a miracle if this
....” She motions between us. “....lasts beyond tonight.”

“Is that what you think?” I challenge her, stopping in front of her and holding her other hand.

“Why wouldn't it be? I've had your attention for oh, six days. That's a miracle in itself.”

I shake my head. She's fucking smart, and now I have to play it just as smart. It's all a game. Love or be loved. I don't do the first one, so it's gonna have to be the second. Megan's made me watch enough chick flicks in my life. I can fake this mushy shit.

“Angel,” I say softly, running my thumb across her cheek, across the tiny freckles I've never noticed until now. “What if I ask you to give me a chance?”

BOOK: The Love Game
10.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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