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With Every Heartbeat
With Every Heartbeat
With Every Heartbeat
Электронная книга550 страниц8 часов

With Every Heartbeat

Автор Linda Kage

Рейтинг: 4.5 из 5 звезд



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I used to think everything was black and white, truth or lie, easy or hard, that if I could just escape my strict, overbearing, abusive father, my life would be perfect. But since I’ve found a reason to risk his wrath and leave, to help a friend in need, I’ve come to realize everything I thought I knew is wrong.

Friends have their own agenda, honesty comes with a dosage of lie, easy doesn’t even exist, keeping secrets sucks, and love...love is the most painful thing of all.

Maybe if Quinn Hamilton hadn’t asked me to skip classes for the day and help him pick out an engagement ring for my best friend, I wouldn’t have fallen for him so completely on that sunny Tuesday afternoon and I wouldn’t feel so conflicted. But I did, and I can’t take it back, no matter how hard I try. So I have to deal with the fact that even I’m not as good, or honest, or caring as I’d always thought I was, and no matter what I do next, someone’s going to get hurt. Probably me.

-Zoey Blakeland

ИздательLinda Kage
Дата выпуска2 мар. 2015 г.
With Every Heartbeat
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Linda Kage

The youngest of eight children, Linda Kage grew up on a dairy farm in the Midwest. She now lives in Kansas with her husband, daughter, and nine cuckoo clocks. Linda is a member of Romance Writers of America and its local chapter, Midwest Romance Writers.

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Рейтинг: 4.384236453201971 из 5 звезд

203 оценки14 отзывов

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  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    Wow, I loved these two imperfect souls that came together to become one new whole "perfect flower".
  • Рейтинг: 2 из 5 звезд
    Quinn ended up being such a disappointment, and Zoey the martyr was too eye-rolling to take seriously.
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    I adore the series so much. This was probably my least favourite one so far. It was quite long winded and went on a bit of a merry dance around things. But it was still great, I absolutely love Quinn. I’m so excited for Tens story because he is just hilarious and sweet. I can’t wait ? do read this one if you are reading the series but it isn’t the best one.
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    ummary Zoey Blakefield has escaped her abusive father and has come to save her best friends and new roommates life. Her roommate is on dialysis and needs a transplant, and Zoey is more than willing to give a kidney to her. Zoey is shy and reserved and has never been around many people, but she is in a new way of living, coming to college. She never imagined that she would be attracted to her roommates boyfriend. And despite their attraction she knows that nothing can ever happen, she would never betray her friend in that way. Quinn Hamilton is sweet and fun-loving, but Cora is his first girlfriend and is dedicated and loyal to her. He would do anything for her, to keep her happy. Quinn never imagined that he would start have sex dreams about Zoey, and be able to connect with her on a level he never has with Cora. When he learns some awful truths about Cora, he fights for the woman he truly desires and wants more than anything. Soon though Quinn and Zoey will be tested in a way which their relationship will go through the ringer, and only by trusting in the love they have built will they find a way to be together. “Sometimes, it’s the little things we do that mean the most to others.”The Hero Quinn Hamilton is a sweet but shy guy. He plays on the football team and is a starter. Quinn has never had a girlfriend until he came to college. Quinn didn't have an easy childhood, and still bears the scars from that horrid time in his past. It still haunts him at times and worships Cora because she is the first girl to give him notice. Quinn was quite the heartbreaking hero and my heart just ached for him. We see what a wonderful person Quinn is...thoughtful, kind and loving. He is the perfect hero and gets treated so horribly at times by his girlfriend. Which is why I loved the way Zoey is with him, she shows him what a real relationship should be even though she has no clue herself.The Heroine Zoey Blakeland is a heroine that we see inside of quite a bit. And in this story even though there is alternating POV...I always loved the parts where we inside of Zoey. She is a character, that is so afraid of everything, almost afraid of her own shadow. She has never really had a chance to build confidence until now. We see how her characters change, and although it's a slow change, it's a good one. Zoey goes from being super quiet and shy to fighting for what she wants and stands up to Cora, and I so cheered her on in those special moments where you see her true character come forth and shine. Zoey is talented, intelligent and sweet. Perfect match for our Quinn. Here below is a scene that I love Zoey in with Quinn and Ten (who is quite the scoundrel but very funny and he plays a huge role with the love story that develops between Quinn and Zoey) "Something's wrong with his penis." "What?" a clear confused Quinn said as Ten choked out a horrified growl. "I'm Sorry, I didn't mean to say that out loud, but..oh my God. It doesn't look like yours. There's this big, blood bruise looking thing on it." "Blondie!" Ten cried in a strained voice. "Shut...Up!!" I Finally glanced at him. As I looked at him, though, all I could see was that huge discoloration on his junk. "I'm sorry." I said, genuinely remorseful for blurting what was probably something very private about his privates. "I just couldn't keep it in. I tried. But..oh my God. What is it? Does it hurt?" Quinn choked out a surprised laugh, while a blushing Ten slapped his palm against his forehead "It's a birthmark." He gritted out "Just a birthmark. Nothing is wrong with my dick. Plot and Story Line With Every Heartbeat is such an emotional addition to the Forbidden Men series and the last book I needed to read before I finished the series and what a fun ride it is. Sad but I hear the next book is coming out soon, so I am pretty excited about that. What I have loved about this series is how each couple is unique in their situations and we see how each pair overcomes the "forbidden love" scenario that they find themselves in. Now first off I want to point out that there is no cheating in this book. Thank goodness...I have issues with that. But Linda Kage writes this story in such a way that we see a building of friendship before these two get anywhere close to being physically intimate with each other. In fact, this aspect was one of my favorites about how this story evolved, was seeing them truly bonding emotionally and intellectually before they get sex happy. Many things happen to this couple before they even get to the happy in bed aspects. What I loved about this story, and it's a theme we see in each, book of the series, is how there is alternating POV's...which is so fun. Most of the time when I read New Adult its only in one POV, and it tends to get old after a while. I LOVED how it switches from Zoey to Quinn every chapter. You see both sides of their lives and what makes them tick. ”Dr. Pepper was my drink. Strawberry was my ice cream. Pepperoni was my pizza. And Cora was my girl. The supporting cast was quite fun...we see more of the "Forbidden couples" and their interactions are quite fun. Also we see the beginning of Ten and Caroline before their chemistry gets explosive in the next book. This story we see the build up of tension and the nasty bits of Cora. Now Cora is one nasty piece of work. At first I wasn't sure what my first impression was, I thought she was a bit flighty and conceited. I didn't really like her much but when we learn her true agenda, well lets just say I could throw her out a window. She is quite horrid to both Quinn and Cora, but Quinn and Cora are such wonderful human beings. Honestly I don't know how I would react and treat Cora afterwards, but they were much nicer than I would ever be. They stand up to her but at the same time are still decent to her. In this story Cora is the "Villain" and we learn some truths about Zoey's past which was quite shocking and I didn't see coming. The romance between Quinn and Zoey was brilliantly played out. They were perfect for each other. They both had traumatic pasts, they were both sweet and kind but had various interests that balanced them out well. Once they got together, it was like they just "fit". "I love you. With every beat of my heart, I am yours."What was most admirable about these two was seeing them finally together, after seeing them struggle with the complications beforehand, and finally once they are together, their troubles aren't even close to being over...but them fighting for one another and stumble and fall and get right back up and keep fighting just made the story even sweeter. The CoverI actually adore this cover, with that relaxing pose, so romantic yet sensual too.Overall View With Every Heartbeat is a love story that shows the reader what it means to fight for love and win! It is packed with endearing characters, a forbidden romance, a plot to keep you on your toes, and will charm you from the first chapter!
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    Waiting for them to get together was worth the wait. I love Zoey’s and Ten’s friendship more than anything it’s super cute. I wish I had a guy friend like that ??
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    As always perfect. So much drama...I LOVE IT! Always makes it satisfying when all the drama leads to a happy ending :)
    Quinn N Zoey: they are just cute together N damn pervy. I love that the author made them seem innocent to others but when they clash together, they become really intimate with flaming hot passion ??
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    Loved it!
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    Loved it!
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    Really enjoyed this book! After a few false starts in reading the series I picked up this book not realising it was part of it and really enjoyed it now I'm going to go back and read them all!
  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    I've been looking forward to my gentle giant's story since he was first introduced. I'm so glad to see him get his happily ever after. I'm glad I read the other books first because I feel like you get to know him better in them than in this one but I still love him.

    1 человек считает это полезным

  • Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд
    a lot of drama but a sweet couple
  • Рейтинг: 3 из 5 звезд
    So this author doesn't having rapists and abusers EVER prosecuted? In any book I have read so far

    2 человек считают это полезным

  • Рейтинг: 5 из 5 звезд
    I loved "With Every Heartbeat", the book Is amazing. It definitely had a few tear jerking moments. I fell in love with the characters and the story line. I was sucked in from the first page.

    1 человек считает это полезным

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With Every Heartbeat - Linda Kage



The party was completely out of control. Thumping loud music, alcohol in every hand, topless girls in the hot tub outside, and more of them booty-grinding on the coffee table indoors. If I’d been wearing pearls, I would’ve clutched those bad boys for dear life as I stood in the doorway, gaping at the sight before me.

This was my first college kegger...and on Shark Week, no less. I couldn’t believe Cora wanted me to meet her here.

Out of the way! a voice bellowed behind me. Coming through.

I turned just in time to see a silver keg barreling directly for me. With a squeak, I dove to the side and fully into the frat house, barely saving my piggies hanging out the front of my sandals from being smashed. The pair of drunk guys pushing the beer inside on a dolly leered at me, offering me a drink if I agreed to flash them. I respectfully declined, and they shrugged, moving on and disappearing into the rowdy horde.

Clutching my imaginary pearls, I gulped heavily. What the heck was I doing? After living eighteen years under the strict dictatorship of my father, I’d never seen anyone drinking spirits before, much less getting wasted from them, as pretty much everyone around me was. Heck, we even took grape juice during Communion at the church we attended because wine was forbidden in my little world.

I was so out of my element; I wanted to run and hide. But I didn’t have anywhere to run to. Arriving three days early, I was literally locked out of my new apartment until I found my roommate.

After I’d called her from the track phone she’d sent me and told her I was in town, Cora had instructed me to meet her at this address. And I was sure it was this address; I’d double, triple and quadruple checked.

I’d texted her from outside moments ago, telling her I was here, hoping she’d come out to me, but all she’d replied was: Come on in. I’m in the back.

The back. She might as well have told me to meet her at the end of a dark, creepy alley of a ghetto where homeless bums were scurrying through trash and thugs were dealing drugs, and oh, Holy Hosanna, was that guy smoking a joint? I didn’t know the difference between a real cigarette and...well, whatever that thin, short thing was hanging out of his mouth, but it certainly didn’t smell like regular nicotine tobacco wafting my way.

Telling Cora no way, that she needed to hike her skinny little tush outside to meet me, would only express how much of a loser I was. So I bolstered myself, squared my shoulders and drew in a deep breath.

Welcome to college, Zoey.

Had I mentioned I was so out of my freaking element?

Grabbing a piece of my blonde hair and trying not to appear as awkward and scared as I felt, I wound the comforting lock around my finger and stepped forward, determined to do this. But a startling cheer from the crowd as a guy jumped onto the coffee table to dance with the topless girls had me hunching my shoulders and bolting toward the first doorway I saw, hoping it led to the back.

My heart pounded, and I felt so inept because everyone around me was having fun. No one was scared out of their mind, no one looked as if they could burst into tears any second just because they were here, and no one seemed to be on the verge of hyperventilating. The jealousy bug nipped hard. I kind of wished I could be as uninhibited and free-spirited as all these people.

Why was it so hard for me to walk through a crowd of drunk strangers? To mix and mingle? To socialize? Growing up as isolated as I had was no excuse. Cora had grown up in the same environment, and she was here, wasn’t she?

She’d better be here.

Focusing on the anger I felt at myself for being such coward, I used the heat behind that to propel myself forward. I could do this.

I would do this.

The next room I entered was thankfully mellower than the first. No dancing, no music, no nakedness. But it was still just as crowded, if not more so. Lots of people clumped into groups, talking. Most of them were male, which brought up another irrational trepidation I had. After being homeschooled through the first eight grades, I hadn’t been around much of the opposite gender, at least not many who were my age. My father had made sure to keep me away from boys. So seeing this many of them, everywhere I turned, was a little unnerving. My limbs heated and face flushed. I was certainly going to be attending college with a lot of hotties.

Already knowing I wasn’t going to find Cora in this room, I started to turn but stopped cold when I did recognize one face, like the supreme hottie of all hotties.

Cora was an avid Facebooker. She posted pictures and updates constantly. So I was well aware of what her boyfriend looked like. I’d been bowled over the first time I’d seen his snapshot pop up on her page three months ago. Quinn Hamilton was perfect in the looks department—like ridiculously, flawlessly perfect. I couldn’t believe my best friend had been able to snag a complete dreamboat like him.

Not that she didn’t deserve someone gorgeous or wasn’t good enough to catch a hunk. She was beautiful and way more outgoing than me. She could probably get any guy she wanted. But Quinn Hamilton had just seemed like movie-star pretty, completely untouchable to regular non-movie-star citizens like us. Even as he stood among a throng of attractive, drunk college guys and sipped from a red SOLO cup, he managed to shine above them all.

It didn’t seem possible, but he was even better looking in person. Grainy pictures online so did not do him justice. I stared a moment longer because, well... art was meant to be appreciated, and he was a masterpiece.

After maybe a bit too much appreciation, I finally scanned the faces around him, hoping Cora might be near. But I didn’t find her anywhere.

I knew I should approach him since he was the best chance I had of locating my best friend, but going anywhere near such perfection felt utterly forbidden.

I’d have to meet him eventually, sure; he was Cora’s boyfriend. But I wasn’t ready yet, mostly because he’d just smiled at something someone was telling him. The skin around his eyes crinkled with genuine warmth, his lips lifted into the most attractive demeanor, while his entire complexion just... brightened. And yeah, I couldn’t do it.

I turned to find the exit behind me, only to discover it was blocked. Fear and a bit of claustrophobia clutched my throat, making it suddenly hard to breathe. I needed to get out of this house. The sooner I found Cora, the better.

Okay, fine. I’d meet the boyfriend, then. I could do that. Sure.

I started toward Quinn Hamilton just as the guy talking to him pulled up his phone and showed the screen to Quinn. I was only a few feet away now; one more step and I’d be close enough to reach out and tap him on the shoulder—holy Lord, could I actually summon the nerve to touch those thick, amazingly formed shoulders?

But the curious smile lighting his face dropped as soon as he looked at the phone.

I stumbled to a halt as his eyes went flint hard and narrowed on his friend. His lips were tight as he said something in a low growl I couldn’t hear. The other guy threw back his head and laughed as if it was the funniest comment in the world. But Quinn dropped his drink—yeah, right on the floor—splattering...what was that—water?—all over his shoes. Then he grabbed two fistfuls of the other man’s shirt and propelled him backward, right through a crowd of people until he had his opponent pinned to the wall with the guy’s shoes dangling a good foot above the floor.


"I said, delete it," Quinn roared, loud enough for not just me, but everyone in the room to hear. Maybe everyone in the house. Possibly the city.

The skin pulled taut over his hard jaw as he glared at the man he was holding captive, letting everyone know he wasn’t kidding around.

The room went hushed, and every eye turned toward them. I shrank a step back, not sure what to do or where to hide. While all my duck-and-cover instincts flared to life, someone came shoving through people and right past me, hollering, Hey, hey, hey! What the fuck is going on?

When the newcomer reached Quinn, he tugged him away from the other guy, who gratefully slid to the floor and made a production of gasping for breath and straightening his shirt.

Get his phone, Quinn commanded the man who’d so easily been able to pull him out of a fight.

Without question, his friend snatched the phone from the guy who was still patting himself down.

The new guy’s face drained of color before he sent Quinn a grimace. Shit, he muttered. His thumb punched the screen a few times before he shoved it back at its owner.

The owner scowled. Hey! You deleted it.

Hey! Douche nozzle, Quinn’s friend shot back, imitating the phone owner’s insulted tone. You shouldn’t have had it in the first place. Where did you get it, and who the fuck else did you show it to? Did you send it to anyone?

Why do you care? Or were you the one banging her?

Oh, I’m going to bang you, buddy. This time it was Quinn’s friend, not Quinn, who grabbed two handfuls of shirt and shoved the phone owner against the wall. I’m going to bang your fucking head against this fucking wall if you don’t answer my fucking questions.

That was probably more f-bombs than I’d heard in my entire life. To have them assault my stunned ears all in one breath left them ringing. Frozen to the spot, I clutched my own shirt with two handfuls and watched as Quinn gripped his friend’s shoulder and tried to tug him back.

Enough. The picture’s gone. It’s over.

But his friend wasn’t as easy to bring to heel as he’d been. Keeping his stare on the phone owner who was struggling to break loose, he sneered. The fuck if it’s over. Little prick here needs to learn some manners.

Fuck you, Little Prick answered. Then he spit in his captor’s face.

I swallowed, knowing exactly what was going to happen next. And yep, Quinn’s friend turned a hot, angry red. Oh, you’re dead. Then he wound back his arm, his hand already balled into a fist. I winced, bracing for the punch, even though it wasn’t aimed at me. I knew how much they hurt.

But Quinn intercepted this one, catching it in his palm.

What the hell? his friend started as Quinn let go of the fist to wrap a single arm around his waist and lift him off the floor.

Oh, wow. He was strong. His rowdy friend was by no means little, but Quinn didn’t even break a sweat as he carried the cursing guy under his arm toward an exit in the back of the room. As soon they disappeared out the door, everyone started gossiping. The spitting phone owner began talking big about how he would’ve won the fight, while I just stood there, petrified.

I wanted out of this place so bad. And the only person whom I knew could help me find Cora had just walked out the door.

Deciding that staying here a minute longer was more intimidating than Quinn Hamilton, I raced after him. When I found myself in a quiet, dark backyard, I paused, but I heard familiar muttering so I didn’t retreat into the house.

Why the fuck did you stop me, Ham? That little dipshit deserved to get the piss kicked out of him.

I might’ve only heard him say a few words inside the frat house, but I immediately recognized Quinn’s voice as he answered. Coach said you’d get kicked off the team if you got into another fight.

"Fuck Coach. No, you know what. Fuck you. You should’ve kicked his ass for me. Yeah. Coach probably would’ve eaten that shit up. He’d love to see you get a little more aggressive. He probably would’ve pissed himself if he’d seen you shoving Belcher against that wall. With a laugh, he slugged Quinn in the shoulder. That was pretty badass. Impressed the fuck out of me. I didn’t know you had that shit in you."

I shook my head, amazed by the guy who’d gone from cussing Quinn to complimenting him in one long, run-on sentence. Quinn seemed similarly amused. His back was to me, so I couldn’t see his face, but he gave a small laugh and shook his head. Um...thank you? he said as if not certain whether he was being praised or insulted.

He had a nice laugh. Nice smile, too. Very nice backside. Not that I was looking...much.

Under his pretty face and intimidatingly hulking physique, however, I wondered exactly what kind of person my best friend had attached herself to. He’d been so quick to shove that other guy into a wall. I prayed Cora hadn’t found a violent man. That was one thing I wouldn’t be able to handle.

Then again, he’d been just as quick to settle down, and he’d even stopped his friend from taking the argument to the next level. Actually, he’d seemed more protective than hostile. Made me wonder what kind of picture had been on that phone.

Can we help you with something, sweetheart?

I jumped at the question, realizing Quinn’s friend had spotted me spying on them. My mouth went dry. It was now or never time.

With a small clearing of my throat, I nodded. I...I’m sorry. I was just...I was looking for Cora.

Hearing her name, Quinn turned.

And looked directly at me.

His blue-eyed gaze froze me. I felt like the guy he’d shoved against the wall: held captive in his grip and unable to break free. Then he blinked a pair of overly long dark lashes. Every organ inside me seemed to ignite into flames. My skin prickled and my flight-or-fight instinct kicked in, making me think my reaction to him was fear. But I’d never felt a tightening deep in my stomach when I’d been scared before. This was...I don’t even know.

My body didn’t seem to know what the heck was wrong with me, either, so it rebelled against the overwhelming foreign sensation, making my breath quicken and my fingers and toes tingle.

I... Smoothing some hair behind my ear, I gaped back at Quinn Hamilton. I’m sorry for interrupting. I know you don’t know me. But I’ve seen pictures of you, so I knew who you were, and I thought you could help me. But, I... I tried to apologize again as I backed toward the doorway, except the words stuck in my throat. I’m...

Zoey, Quinn said softly, as if finishing my sentence for me. And, oh my word. Hearing my name come from his mouth set off all kinds of tingling and tummy tightening inside me.

Yep. I was in big trouble.

I’ve seen pictures of you, too. A soft smile lit his face as he started toward me. Cora’s inside.

I tripped in reverse as he came closer, my eyes going wide.

My behavior caused him to jerk to a halt. His mouth opened and apology entered his gaze, but he said nothing. He cleared his throat and pointed toward the back door of the frat house. I can...I’ll show you where she is.

Nodding my compliance, I stayed mute as shame flooded my limbs. The guy had only been trying to be nice and help me out, and I’d been shying away from him as if he were an ax murderer.

Way to make a first impression to Cora’s boyfriend, you idiot.

He moved around me, purposely giving me a wide berth, and opened the back door, only to step aside to let me enter first. I drew in a breath and skipped up onto the small back steps, coming close enough to him that I could immediately notice how incredible he smelled. Clean and male with a subtle hint of spice.

Thank you, I started to say, but his friend broke in, calling after us.

Hey! I turned in time to see him waving his hands. What the hell, man?

Oh. From the surprise in Quinn’s voice, I think he’d forgotten about the other guy completely. This is Cora’s new roommate. I’m going to help her find Cora. Then he glanced at me. "That’s Ten. He’s my roommate. He let out a small sigh and rolled his eyes before adding, Unfortunately."

I heard that, Ten said, setting his hands on his hips. If you leave now, who’s going to talk me out of kicking Belcher’s ass?

Quinn frowned and glanced at me before turning his attention to Ten. Can’t you talk yourself out it?

Probably not.

Quinn motioned me with a tip of his head to go ahead and enter the house. Don’t worry. He’ll talk himself out of it, he assured me with a sigh.



After I reassured Zoey that Ten wouldn’t start any fights without me, her lips loosened with a relieved smile. My stomach followed suit, loosening with its own relief.

I had desperately wanted Cora’s friend to like me. Cora had told me about Zoey’s past, her strict, abusive father, her shielded homeschooled upbringing, her shy demeanor. I had felt like a kindred soul to her the moment I’d learned of her because I could too easily relate to a lot of words Cora had used to describe her. I’d actually been hoping I could maybe, possibly, I don’t know...finally talk to someone else who understood some of the things I’d been through.

But then stupid, idiot Belcher had shown me that picture of my friend Noel’s girlfriend topless, and yeah...Zoey Blakeland’s first impression of me was shoving him against a wall.


She probably thought I was exactly like her father. She’d certainly shied away from me quickly enough when I’d merely walked toward her. Now I was going to have to work double-time to convince her that was the first time I’d ever shoved anyone anywhere. I was the least violent person I knew. I mean, I had been... until tonight.

My hands were still shaking, surprised by how quickly I’d manhandled the baseball player. But Noel was one of the few friends I had. I couldn’t handle anyone disrespecting his girlfriend by showing off topless pictures of her.

Realizing I was actually capable of such violence messed with my head, though. Made me worry what I might be truly capable of doing.

So, uh... I didn’t know what to say to Cora’s new roommate. The first thing to pop into my mind was that she was early. We weren’t planning for her to make it into town until Sunday evening. But I thought mentioning that would make her feel as if I didn’t want her here, when the idea of Cora having her best friend on hand was actually nice.

Unprepared for this, I scratched the back of my head. Cora’s this way, I said and started for a back hall I used a lot to avoid running into too many people, but then I wondered if I’d freak her out by taking her into a long, dark hallway alone. So I changed directions, except she’d already been following me to go the other way, and we collided into each other.

Sorry. I grabbed her shoulders to keep her from toppling over.

She might be tall for a girl, but she was still a dainty thing. I was like a big, bumbling buffoon next to her sleek, willowy frame. Feeling her all soft and pliable under my hands made her seem extra feminine and sweet, which in turn made me more aware of how male I was, which was...awkward.

Really awkward.

She smelled good, too. I caught myself leaning in to catch another whiff so I could figure out what the heck that scent was. I stopped cold when she looked up at me with big sea foam green eyes.

And oh...wow.

I totally didn’t mean to freeze, but I was thunderstruck, and I paused for way too long of a second.

Great, now she was going to think I was coming on to her or something. She’d have Cora talked out of dating me within the hour.

My hands jerked off her as if she’d scalded me. My ears burned with humiliation while I cleared my throat. You okay? When she nodded, I did too, motioning us back toward the crowded part of the frat house. We, uh, we should probably take this way.

I was trying too hard. I always flubbed things up whenever I wanted to impress someone. My stress levels rose, I paid too much attention to every little thing I did and said, and I became so self-conscious my stutter usually returned.

Refusing to say a word so I could at least keep that little embarrassment under control, I led Zoey into the next room where noise and the bustling activity of a college party assaulted us. She inched closer to me, which was nice, since it meant she wasn’t flat-out afraid of me, but I told myself she did it because the place was cramped; there was honestly nowhere else for her to go.

When some drunkard stumbled backward into her, she gasped and grabbed my wrist, smashing her side into mine. I curled a protective arm around her and used my free hand to nudge the drunk away. She didn’t pull away from me, so I kept her flush against me and led her to my girlfriend.

Cora was exactly where I’d last seen her, dancing to some hip-hop song with two guys who were laughing and talking with her above the music between all the Jell-O shots they were downing. Eyes closed, she lifted her hands above her head, swished her hair around her face and rotated her hips in a way that reminded me of the first night we’d met. The night I’d lost my virginity.

There, I said, pointing her out. I freed Zoey so she could go to Cora. But she didn’t leave my side.

Her mouth fell open as she gawked openly, moving her face forward as if she didn’t believe her own eyes. Is... Her mouth moved a few more times before she looked up at me. "Is she drunk?"

I froze, not sure how to answer. But, oh, boy.

Apparently, those two had a lot of catching up to do.

Instead of saying anything, I left her and eased through the dancers to catch Cora’s elbow. When she turned and saw me, her face brightened, which always lit me up inside. I couldn’t explain how nice it was to be with someone who was always happy to see me.

Quinn! she cheered, vaulting herself against me and looping her arms around my neck. Are you finally going to dance with me? When she lifted onto her toes to kiss me, I kissed her back.

I liked it better when she was doing shots instead of sucking down beer. Tasted better. Plus the smell of beer haunted me with too many bad memories. As her tongue slid against mine, I decided tonight’s Jell-O of choice must’ve been cherry.

Cora definitely knew how to make cherry my favorite flavor.

Your friend’s here, I said, pulling away to call into her ear above the music and licking the last hint of cherry off my bottom lip.

She frowned up at me, obviously confused. So I pointed out Zoey, who was still hovering in the same spot I’d left her, arms crossed over her chest as if she were cold...or scared out of her mind.

"Oh my God. Zoey! Deserting me, Cora lifted her arms over her head and shook them excitedly as she wove through people to reach her friend. Swooping in, she gave Zoey a huge hug, to which Zoey couldn’t really hug her back because Cora had pinned her arms to her sides. I can’t believe you’re really here. This is so exciting. We’re going to have the best year ever."

When she pulled away, she grabbed Zoey’s hand. Come on. Let’s dance.

Zoey’s eyes went huge and her head began to swish back and forth. I knew the last thing she wanted to do was dance. In fact, I knew she wanted to get out of this place. Bad. The way she kept glancing around with such apprehension reminded me of how I’d felt a year ago when Noel had invited me to my first party.

He’d been the big star, the first string quarterback for the football team, and I’d been a lowly freshman nobody. An invitation from him hadn’t been something I could turn down. I had wanted to fit in and feel normal, so I’d sucked up all my anxieties and gone.

I’d hated every minute of that loud, overbearing frat house.

And I still hated parties, but my girl loved them, so I kept taking her to them, which made her happy and in turn, made me happy. But that didn’t mean I didn’t totally sympathize with Zoey. She wanted to leave, so I was going to help her escape.

I caught Cora’s shoulder before she could tug Zoey too far away. She’s probably too tired to dance. She had to have driven all day to get here.

Cora paused and glanced back at Zoey, who quickly bobbed her head up and down. Do you mind if I just get my key and find the apartment?

Of course not. Cora was usually easy to convince of anything when she was drunk. She grinned at Zoey and looped their arms together. I’ll go with you and help you settle in.

Though Zoey looked relieved by the suggestion, I scratched my ear with unease.