Today is release day for In the Pocket! I hope readers love this one. I know I do.
Fame, fortune, and paparazzi? No, thank you. Been there, done that.
All former child star Katie Sullivan wants is to live a normal life. She’s spent years burying her past, and she’ll do anything to keep it that way. Then one too many drinks combined with a dare has her asking out Wyatt Archer. Unfortunately, he’s anything but low-profile, and she’s not about to give up her anonymity for some guy.
Except Wyatt Archer isn’t just some guy.
He’s the best college quarterback in the country, and he loves everything that comes along with it– like winning a national championship and having no shortage of girls. It’s never bothered him that the main thing they’re interested in is his potential to make it big.
Katie’s different. Instead of basking in Wyatt’s spotlight, she runs from it, which only makes him want her more. Good thing he never walks away from a challenge, even if it means risking his heart.
I swished my straw around in my Coke, trying to keep my nostrils from flaring and failing miserably. It irked me when Danielle called me “Hollywood,” which was of course why she did it. That, and she was already shit-faced. I couldn’t fault her, though. She was the last of the four of us to turn twenty-one, and I had shown up late to her birthday bar crawl. She had the right to be a little peeved.
“Come on.” Rachel nudged me off the stool. “We’ll go get the next round.”
Danielle raised her empty shooter glass in the air, her furry pink tiara tilting precariously on her head. “Get four shots for yourself, Hollywood! You’re behind.”
I ground my teeth, and Rachel tugged me away before I could say something I would regret. Though it wouldn’t matter anyway—Danielle probably wouldn’t remember most of the night. She was one of my best friends, but sometimes she could be an obnoxious drunk.
Closing my eyes for a moment, I checked my irritation and vowed to have a better attitude. Dani—and none of my other friends for that matter—didn’t understand why the Hollywood nickname bothered me so much. They didn’t understand how close to the mark it hit, how it poured salt in an open wound, especially when I was being taunted by a voicemail from my sister that I hadn’t yet listened to.
“Why were you late anyway?” Rachel asked. We’d been randomly paired up as roommates freshman year, and she’d been my bestie ever since. Danielle and her best friend, Destiny, had lived across the hall from us. Now in our junior year, they shared the apartment next door to mine and Rachel’s.
“I was meeting with Dr. Jenkins.”
Rachel scrunched up her perfectly freckled nose. Her hair was auburn—and don’t you dare call it red—and she had the fair skin to match. “At nearly ten at night?”
“I caught him after his evening class ended at nine.”
“And it couldn’t wait until morning?”
It could have, but I would have stewed about the comments he’d made on my paper all night. I was a biology major with a premed concentration, and I’d taken his Shakespeare class for fun. I’d be damned if I got anything less than an A.
I shrugged and tried to flag down the bartender. When she ignored me, I sighed. “I can’t believe how busy this place is. It’s Tuesday.”
It was Rachel’s turn to shrug. Though she was a good student, she wasn’t as fastidious about her grades as I was. I could count on one hand the number of times I’d been out past eleven on a school night.
We finally returned to our table with four shooters, but two guys I didn’t recognize had taken our seats. Danielle and Destiny were flirting mercilessly with them, but as soon as Destiny saw us approach, she shooed them away like pesky gnats.
“They could have stayed,” I said.
Danielle shook her head, her silky blond hair swaying with the movement. “No way. I want to spend my twenty-first with my giiiirrrrllllssss!” She wrapped her hand around my neck and pulled my face closer so she could plant a big, wet kiss on my cheek. She grabbed the shooter I’d placed in front of her, and half of the bright liquid sloshed out onto the table as she raised it. “To my giiiirrrrllllssss!”
“To Danielle on her twenty-first birthday!” Rachel corrected. “May you not worship the porcelain gods tonight.”
Laughing, Destiny eyed her best friend. “Unlikely.”
“Truth.” Glassy-eyed, Danielle grinned then abruptly became teary eyed. “I love you girls. You know that, right?”
Destiny pulled her into a hug. Danielle had a big heart that bruised easily, and I wanted to bitch-slap myself for being late tonight of all nights. I should have swallowed my obsession with my grades for one evening and not disappointed my friend on her birthday.
I immediately forgave her for calling me “Hollywood” earlier. It was such a stupid thing anyway. She thought my penchant for wearing oversized designer sunglasses made me look like a celebrity hiding from paparazzi. I would never tell her why the seemingly innocent nickname grated on me so much, which only piqued her curiosity. As a rule, she only used it when she was drunk or irritated with me. Tonight met both of those criteria.
“I’m getting the next round!” I declared, preparing to fight my way back to the bar again.
“You got the last one,” Destiny protested. “I’ll get it.”
I shook my head. “Nope. I was late. Consider it my penance.”
As I weaved through the mass of people, my phone vibrated in my back pocket. Damn it. No doubt it was Kassidy calling again, but I didn’t want to deal with her drama tonight. Hell, I never wanted to deal with it, but such was my life.
I let the call go to voicemail again. I would deal with her tomorrow.
I was shit-faced. Ultimately and utterly shit-faced.
Giggling, I stumbled down the sidewalk, my arm looped with Danielle’s. “Make way for the birthday princess!” I announced. No one paid me any attention. Although I felt like my obnoxious level was dialed up to eleven, my antics were tame. Our sleepy little college town had seen much crazier.
Somewhere deep in my brain, warning bells were screaming. I made it a rule to fly under the radar, and I was breaking that rule. Tomorrow. I’ll worry about it tomorrow, along with my stupid Shakespeare paper and Kassidy.
Kassidy… I was always worrying about Kassidy. Nope, not tonight.
I giggled again, and behind me, Rachel snorted. Once she’d seen my alcohol consumption go up, hers had taken a nosedive.
Glancing over my shoulder at her, I grinned. “You’re the best roomie ever!”
She grabbed my arm, preventing me from taking a tumble off the curb. “Watch your step, Giggle Girl.”
For some reason, I found that hilarious. That nickname was loads better than Hollywood.
“Here we are!” Destiny pointed at a rickety wooden staircase that led to an establishment aptly named Top of the Stairs. While sober, I’d wondered who had thought it was a good idea to force inebriated college students to tackle the steep stairs. But tonight, I welcomed the challenge.
Unfortunately for me, my excitement came to a standstill as I noticed the line starting at the bouncer and trailing down the steps. I groaned but didn’t complain. We’d promised Danielle a proper bar crawl, which meant at least one drink at each of the bars downtown.
When we finally gained admission, I realized with one glance why it was so crowded—several key players from the football team were holding court in the corner of the room.
I watched as Wyatt Archer, quarterback extraordinaire, raised a solitary finger. Within seconds, a server placed a new bottle in his hand. He took a swig without missing a beat in his conversation with his number one wide receiver, Freddie Martin, better known as FM4. Both of them were either oblivious to the girls vying for their attention, or the guys were ignoring them. Interesting. Snarky thoughts flooded my mind, but I pushed them away. I couldn’t care less about the local football gods, so I wasn’t going to waste my brain power.
“Ooh,” Danielle squealed. “This just got better. Do you think if I tell them it’s my birthday, they’ll buy me a drink?”
Laughing, Destiny shook her head. “Oh no, honey. That’s not how that works. You’ll be lucky if the Archer and FM4 let you buy them a drink.”
Danielle stuck her lip out in a pout, but it was short lived. “To the bar!” She pointed ahead.
The Archer. That was what they called Wyatt Archer because one, that was his name, and two, like the legendary archer Robin Hood, he never missed his mark.
Well, not never, but his passing record was pretty darn good. He’d started breaking school records his freshman year and hadn’t let up since. I was enough of a football fan to appreciate that. But I had enough self-esteem to steer clear of him. Wyatt Archer had enough girls throwing themselves at him. Case in point, the curvy redhead putting her hand on his arm, flipping her hair over her shoulder, and leaning in such a way to offer him a clear view of her ample cleavage.
No, thank you.
“Why are you staring at him?” Rachel whispered in my ear, causing me to jump.
“I’m not.” Except I totally was, which was why her comment had caught me by surprise because I didn’t care. I didn’t. But it was too late—Wyatt appeared to have noticed me. My first instinct was to look behind me to see if I was mistaken, because why would he be looking at me? Sure, I was attractive, but there were much flashier girls in the room. But then his blue eyes locked onto mine, and his mouth twisted into a smirk. Yup, he’s definitely looking at me. He raised his beer bottle in a cheers fashion before bringing it to his perfect lips.
His perfect lips? What the hell, Katie? Get your shit together.
I could feel my cheeks flushing, so I dragged Rachel with me to catch up with Danielle and Destiny. Destiny placed a drink in my hand. I had no idea what it was because I’d never been a big drinker, but it wasn’t a shot or a shooter, and for that, I was grateful. The trek up the stairs had given my brain enough time to come to the conclusion that I needed to slow down.
Five minutes and half of that evil drink later, I wondered why I’d considered cutting myself off. It was Danielle’s twenty-first birthday, and she’d only have one. What kind of friend would I be if I left her high and dry?
Destiny put her finger over the end of her straw then brought it up to her mouth and released the liquid. “Good God, Katie, stop staring.”
I whipped my head around. “I’m not.”
I totally was. Damn it.
Danielle grinned. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d be attracted to a dumb jock.”
“He’s not dumb,” I said automatically. Three sets of eyebrows simultaneously rose, and my cheeks flushed again. “I had a class with him last year,” I muttered. “He’s actually pretty smart.”
Danielle and Destiny’s eyes widened. “What?” Danielle squealed. “You never told us that.”
I flipped my hair over my shoulder, going for nonchalant. “Because it wasn’t a big deal. We sat in the same classroom three hours a week. It’s not like we became friends or anything. He probably doesn’t even know my name.”
Rachel chuckled. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”
That should have been my line. I was the one who had been late to the bar crawl because I was meeting with my Shakespeare professor.
I flipped my hair over my other shoulder. “Whatever.” That was pretty lame as far as comebacks went, but it was the best my compromised brain could come up with.
“You should go say hi,” Destiny suggested.
I snorted. “No.”
She shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
While I could appreciate how cute the cowlick in Wyatt’s hair was, that was no reason for me to talk to him. Other than his buddy FM4, he was the most famous student on our campus. Hell, he was one of the most famous college students in the country. And that was exactly why he was the last person I should concern myself with.
I got more than my fill of high-profile drama from Kassidy. I could only imagine what it would be like to date the Archer.
Date him? What the hell, Katie? Destiny was only talking about saying hi to him, not dating him. Anyway, it didn’t matter because both of those options were ridiculous.
I nodded, having thoroughly talked myself out of humiliating myself. The pang of doubt took me by surprise. I’d never been one to seek the spotlight—I was more comfortable in the shadows—but something about Wyatt Archer made me want to be in his spotlight.
Where the hell did that thought come from? If I hadn’t already known I’d had too much to drink, that would have clinched it. Yet the thought wasn’t so easily erased from my mind. I lowered my mouth to the straw in my drink, thinking that if the drink had giveth that thought, then the drink could also taketh away.
I stretched, trying to ease the tightness in my traps. Half a second later, a beer bottle appeared in my outstretched hand. Damn. That wasn’t what I’d intended, but I wasn’t going to turn away a cold drink. As I took a swig, I tried to ignore the redhead who’d sidled up to me twenty minutes ago and hadn’t taken the hint. There were some perks of being the university’s quarterback that never got old. And others? Let’s just say they’d lost their appeal.
Truth be told, I wasn’t in the mood to be out that night, but my number one receiver, Freddie—known to the media as FM4—was celebrating. He’d just declared his eligibility for the draft.
He clanked his bottle against mine in a toast of sorts. “It’s not too late, man. You could still declare.”
I tilted the bottle back, nearly draining it. We’d had this conversation too many times to count, but FM4 was relentless on and off the field.
“Nah, not this year.” I didn’t bother to explain my reasoning for the umpteenth time. The logic would be lost on my friend in his inebriated state. Hell, it was lost on him when he wasn’t drunk. Besides that, I wasn’t going to get into it with so many hangers-on around.
He shook his head. “You’re missing out. You’d go first round.”
I shrugged. He was right, and it was tempting as hell.
“Who you gonna pass to next year?” He spread his arms wide. “Half of the magic is leaving.”
Another truth. The two of us had broken the school record for most completed passes in a season, and so far, Coach Gurgin hadn’t impressed me with his roster of new recruits. Damn. Any quarterback worth his salt knew perfect passes didn’t mean shit unless there was someone on the other end to catch them.
I momentarily scowled but quickly wiped the look off my face. Freddie had made the best decision for him. I respected that and wouldn’t ruin his celebration. It wasn’t his fault his plans didn’t align with mine.
“Half? Really?” I grinned. “More like thirty percent. Maybe forty.”
“Pssshhh.” But Freddie grinned back at me.
Damn. I was going to miss his ugly mug.
Maybe he was right. Maybe I should throw my lot in with his. I’d already won the Heisman and a national championship. What did I have to stick around for?
As the question entered my head, I could hear my dad’s voice as clearly as if he were sitting right next to me: Don’t take anything for granted, son. One bad hit, and your career is over.
That had happened to him. He’d entered the draft his junior year and gone seventh, securing a position with Cleveland. Then the third game of the season, Dad had gotten blindsided by the defense in what should have been a routine handoff. It had been a personal foul, but that fifteen-yard penalty hadn’t fixed my dad’s back. Neither had three surgeries. Cleveland had dropped him at the end of the season.
My mother had dropped him, too, but that was another story.
Shitty luck, he’d always said. Even shittier was how freely the docs had given him pain meds. It had taken him years to kick the addiction. By then, he was a nobody, not even a has-been—he was a could-have-been. He had no degree, and the money he’d gotten for his one year on the roster was gone.
Of course, I’d been too young to realize what the hell was going on. I’d lived with my grandparents then, and they’d kept me blissfully unaware. But I sure as hell was aware now. It was hard not to be when reporters threw that family history in my face every few months. I got it—it was a social-interest piece. But it was also my life.
“Aww, come on, man.” Freddie nudged my shoulder. “You’re depressing me.”
I neutralized my expression. “Sorry.”
“You know what would cheer you up?” Freddie grinned. “An eight-figure salary, just for throwing a few balls.”
I gripped my beer bottle tighter. “You test the waters first and tell me how it is.”
The redhead scooted over. If she got any closer, she would be sitting in my lap. Her perfume was so pungent, my eyes burned. I didn’t even know the chick. Hell, she didn’t know me, not really. I was the Archer, and that was all she was interested in.
Stretching my arm out and wrapping it around her, I eased into the role of the quarterback playboy. Only somehow, it didn’t fit as well as it used to.
Beside me, the girl beamed and pressed her tits against my side, making sure I felt them. No worries, honey. A guy would’ve had to be impotent not to notice.
“My name is Brittany,” she said breathily into my ear. “I’m ready to leave when you are.”
Two years ago, I would have taken her up on the offer immediately. Last year, I would have given it another hour to be a tease. But now her words only made me tired.
Destiny shoved me forward. I didn’t have to see her face to know she was smirking. Inhaling deeply, I put one foot in front of the other then spun around.
“We’ve been here an hour,” I said. “This bar crawl has come to a stop. We should move on.”
Rolling her eyes, Destiny spun me and whispered in my ear. “Chicken.” Then she shoved me again.
The childish taunt was stupid, but it was enough to move me forward. A few seconds of embarrassment, and then I would be on my way. No problem.
But the closer I got to Wyatt Archer, the more my gut churned. I wasn’t a puker, but the contents of my stomach were dangerously sloshing around. As if asking out the Archer in the middle of TOTS wouldn’t bring me enough unwanted attention. Spewing at his feet would make me infamous.
With each step, I tried to come up with a reasonable excuse to bail, but my brain wasn’t working correctly. Obviously. Or I wouldn’t have gotten sucked in by Destiny’s dare.
I cast a final glance over my shoulder to find my three friends intently watching. The only thing that was missing was the popcorn.
Screw this. If they wanted a show, I would give them a show.
The redhead who was sitting next to Wyatt gave me a nasty look, and I gave her one right back. I jerked my head. “Beat it.”
Her jaw dropped. “Are you serious?”
Though my gaze was focused on the girl, Wyatt caught my attention as his eyebrows shot up. A grin stretched across his face, and I could imagine what he was thinking. Girl fight. It probably wouldn’t be the first time girls had fought over him. Too bad it wasn’t happening. I didn’t know the other girl, but I could read her well enough to know she wasn’t a fighter. Neither was I, but she didn’t know that.
I narrowed my eyes at her. “Get lost.”
She looked at Wyatt to save her. He merely shrugged. Yup. Read that right too. For whatever reason, he had no interest in that girl. Perhaps redheads weren’t his flavor of choice this week. Let’s hope he likes brunettes.
Fuming, the girl stomped off. The tiny part of me that was still sober felt bad—I normally wasn’t a bitch. But I was doing her a favor. Did she really want to be next in the line of the Archer’s conquests? I conveniently ignored the logic that at the moment, I was no better than her.
Except, yes, I was. I had enough dignity to make him buy me dinner first. I wasn’t planning to go home with him straight from the bar like that girl was.
I ran my hands over my hips and positioned my lips into a pout, which was a signature Kassidy move. Don’t think about that. “Is this seat taken?”
Beside Wyatt, FM4 laughed. “No, honey, it isn’t. Not anymore. You cleared it out.”
His comment annoyed me, so I cocked my head at him. “Where’s Angela tonight?”
The smile dropped off his face, and he pulled his arms in and away from the girls sitting next to him. “She’s, uh, she’s sick.”
He is so whipped. It was kind of cute, actually. I’d never met Angela, but his girlfriend, who’d been his high school sweetheart, had a reputation for not taking any shit.
I focused my attention back on Wyatt and ran my tongue over my lips, which was probably overkill, but I wasn’t going for an Academy Award. I was only looking to prove to my friends that I wasn’t a lame stick-in-the-mud. “Can I sit?”
Wyatt nodded, his blue eyes studying me. I slid into place next to him. Damn, he smells good. Though I’d had a class with him, I’d never been this close to him before. His chiseled jawline had a thin coating of stubble, but since it was blond, like his hair, it wasn’t noticeable. That must be convenient. My hair was dark, and I got a five o’clock shadow on my legs that was annoying as hell.
I could picture Kassidy wrinkling her nose and running a perfectly manicured hand down her smooth leg. I can’t believe you haven’t done laser hair removal yet, she would say.
He turned his face toward me, and I saw that his blue eyes had flecks of gold near the pupils. They continued to study me, and in that instant, I realized he wasn’t drunk. Not by a long shot. Somehow knowing that he was sober while I was wasted made the situation even more uncomfortable.
It’s only a performance. Yeah, but I’d left that behind years ago.
The edges of his mouth quirked up, and my confidence faltered. Why didn’t I bring my drink with me?
“I’m Katelyn Sullivan.” I cringed. This wasn’t roll call—he didn’t need my full name. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Katie. I go by Katie.”
Not much better. I wanted to look over at my friends, but I couldn’t bear it if they were laughing. I never should have gotten sucked in by their dare. Just as I was about to throw in the towel and slink away, Wyatt spoke.
“I know who you are.”
“You do?” Katie’s voice came out in a squeak.
“Yeah. You were in my philosophy class.” I normally kept to myself in class, but that one had been discussion based, which had forced me to interact. Whenever I’d spoken, everyone else in class would bob their heads up and down like they were plastic figurines on a dashboard, but not this girl. She was the only one who’d challenged me, calling me out on some shit I had said and raking my ass over the coals. I didn’t even remember what we’d been discussing, but I remembered the feeling. It was one of the few times in my life that I’d ever been embarrassed. It had been kind of refreshing.
So yeah, I would have remembered her even if she hadn’t possessed a kind of an old-world beauty. Her hair was long and dark, and it had always been pulled away from her face. She’d never worn makeup, not that she needed it. She was classically beautiful, like a movie star from the black-and-white movies my grandmother had been fond of.
Even now, her hair was pulled into an unassuming ponytail, and her face was clear, except for a little something at her eyes. Mascara… yeah, that was it. She wasn’t trying to compete with the other girls in the bar, but she didn’t have to because she’d beaten them hands down anyway. The others might be hot, but she was beautiful.
“Oh,” Katie said, seeming flustered. “I didn’t think you’d remember me.”
Maybe she’d forgotten our heated debates. She was smart—that much had been clear. She probably handed her classmates their asses all the time. Maybe I was an arrogant prick for figuring she would remember the time she’d handed me mine, just because I was the Archer.
“How could I forget the girl who made me feel this big?” I held up two fingers an inch apart.
Her cheeks turned bright pink, and her eyes shifted to the ground. I should have felt like an ass for making her feel bad, but I was too busy enjoying looking at her. The girl intrigued me, and not many did.
She moved her gaze up, focusing on something across the crowded bar. No, not something—someone. Multiple someones. Three chicks gaped at her, and I assumed they were her friends.
She ran her hands over the thighs of her pants, and a fierce determination gleamed in her eyes. She tilted her head, giving me a clear view of the smooth skin on her neck. Her full, unpainted lips parted a little, fixing into a pout.
My jeans suddenly felt tighter. I couldn’t figure her out—she definitely knew what she was doing, but it was like she didn’t realize how good at it she was. Normally, chicks overestimated their sexual appeal. Katie did the opposite. Jesus. It was a good thing this girl didn’t know how dangerous she was.
“Sorry about that,” she said, only she didn’t sound sorry.
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. “No, you’re not.”
Her eyes widened, and I realized they were more hazel than brown. She was wearing all black, and I wondered if her eyes would look green if she wore that color.
It took her a beat to collect herself. “Well, will you forgive me anyway?”
Shrugging, I reached for my beer bottle. “Sure.” When I put it down, I realized she didn’t have a drink. “Do you want something?” I gave a wave, and a barmaid appeared almost immediately. “What do you want?” I asked Katie.
She shook her head. “I’m good.”
“Not even water or a soda?” I asked. “Come on. It’s on my tab.”
Katie shook her head again.
The barmaid smiled, her eyes narrowing as she looked at Katie. It was obvious she didn’t mind being at my beck and call, but she was annoyed to wait for Katie, which annoyed me.
I looked over at Katie’s friends, who immediately averted their gazes. How smooth, ladies. They’d obviously been staring at us. I pointed. “She’ll have one of those red things that they’re having. And a water.”
When the barmaid walked away, Katie quietly said, “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Yeah, I did.” I took a swig from my bottle. Normally, chicks fell all over themselves with gratitude if I bought them a drink, which I rarely did anymore. There was no point—the end result was the same either way. And while I stood to make a shit ton of money one day, I wasn’t there yet. My scholarship only went so far, and my dad didn’t have a lot of extra money to send me. But for some reason, my answer was true—I needed to get her a drink. It didn’t make any sense.
“If you really want to buy someone a drink, it would make my friend’s night if you bought her one. It’s her birthday.”
I looked over at the trio of girls and noticed for the first time that one was wearing a plastic tiara lined with pink fur.
“Sure,” I said smoothly. I raised my beer bottle and nodded in her direction. The three of them squealed.
Christ. I needed to get home. I really wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this. Case in point? I was reading way too much into the current situation with Katie. She was probably like every other chick who was hoping for fifteen minutes of fame by being with me. Or worse, she was hoping to latch on to me before I hit it big. Freddie was lucky to have Angela. They’d been together forever, so he’d never had to worry whether she was using him.
The barmaid returned with Katie’s drink, and while I ordered one for the birthday girl, Katie downed half of it. So much for not needing a drink.
When I looked down at her, her lips were tinged red from whatever the hell was in that drink. Aw, hell. I wanted to suck it off and see what it tasted like, see what she tasted like.
I tore my gaze away from her mouth and looked at Freddie, who was talking with a few of the guys who’d finally shown up. Good. I would be able to leave soon.
“So, do you want to go out sometime?” Katie asked in a rush, bringing my attention back to her.
“Excuse me?” Those were not words I’d expected to come out of her mouth. When was the last time a nice girl had asked me out? I couldn’t remember. The answer might be never. I couldn’t blame them, though. I’d made my bed when I’d developed a reputation as a player. But hell, if a girl wanted to use me, then I had no problem using her right back. Or at least I used to.
Katie looked away as more words tumbled out of her mouth. “Dinner. A date. You and me.” She finished off her drink, still avoiding my gaze.
I didn’t respond, wanting her to look at me before answering. It was so weird—she vacillated between boldness and shyness, but both seemed to fit her. I couldn’t figure her out.
Finally, her eyes met mine, and I brought my face close to hers. She inhaled sharply and waited for me to speak.