I ran down the empty hall of the brick building that I now called my school. Argh! Another new school. Another new town. More strange people to ignore. More teachers to yell at me. More classes to fail. I wanted to scream holy hell at my mother. Actually, I had done just that before I stormed out of the house like a hurricane about to hit this coastal Southern town.
I hated my mom at the moment. We had one of those tense mother-daughter relationships. She was constantly complaining about something I’d done, and I was constantly complaining about her many boyfriends. Granted, it was partly my fault we were on our second move in the last year. I’d gotten expelled from my last school for defacing the walls of the gym with my beautiful artwork. Not only that, I ran with a wild crowd that, according to Mom, was only going to get me in more trouble.
“New York City is full of opportunities for teenagers to get into trouble,” she’d said during an argument.
My response had been, “Then you should’ve thought about that before you decided to live close to your publisher.”
With my tardy note in hand, I skidded to a halt outside my computer science class, when a five-foot girl barreled out, dancing on one foot then the other.
The edge of the door hit me square in the forehead. The sudden excruciating pain made me wince. “Fuck.” I had a mouth on me, thanks to a couple of my mom’s former boyfriends. Nevertheless, I narrowed my gaze down at the bouncing brown-haired girl.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I have to pee. I have a small bladder.” With a painful expression on her rosy face, she ran down an empty hall, spewing the word “yikes” several times until a door creaked and she was gone.
I held my forehead. No doubt a bruise would be forming. Great! I was officially the new girl with a third eye on her head. I dared anyone to bully me on the subject.
A bald-headed man holding a dry-erase marker greeted me at the door. “May I help you?” he asked in a curt tone.
Jeepers. I didn’t even get, “Are you all right?” Yep, my senior year should be one crazy ride. I mean, if my first day was starting off with a painful bang, I couldn’t imagine how the rest of the day or entire year would even go. All I knew—I was the new kid on the block, and that sucked the big one.
I handed my late slip to the bald-headed man, whose name—Mr. Salvatore—was scripted on my note. He glanced at it then back at me with lines creasing around his dark eyes. “Name?”
“Well, Ms. Smith, you’re extremely late. Take a seat.” He balled up the note then tossed it in the trash can.
I stifled a yawn as I strode into the room with my hand still attached to my forehead. It was useless to tell the teacher I’d overslept, as did my mom. We’d been up all night, unpacking boxes. Regardless, late was late, and nothing I did or said would correct that.
Beady eyes flickered my way. While other students took my arrival to check their cell phones underneath their desks, I searched for an empty seat and found two. One was in the front row, which wasn’t happening. The other seat was tucked away in the back next to a window. Wow! Pay dirt! At my last school, that seat would have gone for high dollar.
I crossed the room then down the aisle until I reached the empty desk. I was about to drop my backpack at my feet, when the boy in the seat next to mine peered up at me with brooding sea-green eyes and the longest lashes on the planet. I wasn’t exaggerating. His lashes fell to the tip of his strong patrician nose. Maybe I was stretching the truth a bit. I didn’t give a shit. All I saw was a boy with eyes that dampened my panties.
I shuddered, the act snapping me out of the lustful world I lived in. I didn’t ogle guys too much, and I wasn’t a slut, but a girl had needs. Mine were stronger than most, at least among my friends at my last school—the same friends I’d had to say good-bye to. A growl zipped around in my head.
“Ms. Smith.” Mr. Salvatore said my name as though it was a swear word.
I snarled over my shoulder.
He dipped his bald head. “Seat. We’re all waiting on you.”
Well, keep waiting while I admire.
The corner of Gorgeous Brooder’s mouth turned up. Bingo! He liked me. Who wouldn’t like me? I had long, wavy blond hair, the kind that boys liked to run their fingers through. I was sassy. Okay, the spunkiness in me could fill up a high-rise building in New York City. I had no shame. Oh, and I didn’t give two cents about what people thought of me.
“You should sit down,” a girl with a mousy voice said to me from the desk in front of mine. “The teacher will send you to the principal’s office.”
I laughed. Then my mom’s words ran through my head. “Remember, no trouble.” My reply to her had been, “Remember, you promised we would spend time together.”
The teacher cleared his throat.
Gorgeous Brooder Boy, who wore a black T-shirt with the words “Funk You” spray-painted in red, raised a thick eyebrow then lowered it as he sized me up.
Goose bumps bloomed to life over my entire body. I knitted my eyebrows more at myself than at Funk You. Goose bumps were for those girls who got all mushy over a boy. I wasn’t one of those girls. Sure, I loved boys and sex and having a good time, but mushiness and love didn’t fit into my life or vocabulary, not after I’d gotten my heart ripped out of my chest by the only boy I ever loved. Not to mention, I’d seen my mom get hurt too many times when one of her dates dumped her.
Mousy Girl dug her fingers into my arm, breaking me out of my stupor. Instead of snarling at her, I planted my ass in the hard wooden chair.
Mr. Salvatore glared at me one last time before he resumed writing on the dry-erase board.
I stole a look at Funk You to find he was piercing those sea-green eyes of his right through me. What I wouldn’t have given to have his long lashes tickle every part of my body.
I shivered. “What?” I asked in a low voice.
He shook his head, grinning.
I leaned over my desk until my boobs were pressed onto the top. His gaze flew to my cleavage.
“Any parties in this town? Or do you know any taggers?” My fingers itched to show this clean town my colorful graffiti work. However, from the confusion on his face, he clearly didn’t know what a tagger was, or maybe he’d just never seen a set of size C cups before.
I scratched that last thought. As mouthwatering as he was, I would bet he’d had those strong hands or even his thick lips on a set of ta tas. I held back a snort at that last word. I’d always found the boob slang funny, especially when a former beau of my mom’s used the word constantly.
Mousy Girl whipped her blond head around, her ponytail swaying. “Shhh.”
“That bruise on your head is growing,” Funk You said in a Southern drawl.
Automatically, I touched it as I squeezed my thighs together at the sound of his Southern accent, deep and smooth. I would have to thank Small-Bladder Girl for making her mark on me. “It’s nothing.” It hurt like a pisser. I also learned that phrase from one of my mother’s boyfriends. “Back to my question. Parties. Taggers. Music. Dance. Booze. Or is this a dry town like in the movie Footloose?”
Mousy Girl sneered at me with her wide hazel eyes.
“Seriously,” I said to her in a hushed whisper.
At the moment, Mr. Salvatore was oblivious to the class as he wrote the syllabus on the board. It was the start of the school year, and the class already looked bored. Hardly anyone was writing. Bladder Girl came back in with a smile that wrapped around her head. I had to laugh. I knew how it felt when my back teeth were floating and my stomach hurt in pain from a full bladder.
Funk You chuckled. “You always this forward?”
“Do you always brood?”
He lost the gorgeous smile as his light-brown hair fell over his forehead, and his eyes darkened. Or at least I thought they did. Scratch that. Fire burned in their depths.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I tend to be…” I had to think of the word.
“Rude?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I wouldn’t say I was rude as much as I would say I call it like it is.”
Mr. Salvatore turned around. “In this class, we’ll discuss theory and coding. I will also assign a senior project that you’ll learn more about tomorrow. In addition, we’ll spend one day per week in the computer lab either applying what you learn or working on your project.”
Funk You began doodling in his notebook.
I sat back and crossed my arms over my chest. With my low grade point average, I should have been paying more attention if I wanted to graduate, which I did. My goal for the year was to bury myself in books and study my ass off. At least that was the plan.
“Pouting?” Funk You asked.
I splayed my fingers on my cheek then lowered each one, leaving my middle finger showing.
While Mr. Salvatore droned on about quizzes and grading, I rubbed my fingers lightly over the growing lump on my forehead.
“Maybe you have a concussion,” Funk You said.
“And maybe you have a stick up your ass.”
“You know what happens to girls with feisty attitudes around these parts, Hannah Montana?”
Heat squeezed the life out of my cheeks, thinking of all the naughty things he could do to punish me. But calling me Hannah Montana was enough to flare my nostrils like a bull in a ring. Everyone always thought they were hilarious when they blurted out “Hannah Montana.”
He gave me a wry grin. “I hit a nerve.”
“You know, I thought you were a badass when I first laid eyes on you. I was wrong.” My voice rose. “You’re a dick like the rest of the men on this planet.”
Surprise, surprise. Thirty pairs of eyes, including the teacher’s, were now staring at me.
“Ms. Smith.” Mr. Salvatore’s tone was icy. “I suggest you watch your language, and not another word for the rest of the class. This is your final warning.”
He didn’t need to say “or else.” I knew the next step was heigh-ho, heigh-ho, off to the principal’s office I would go. At my last school, I’d lived in the principal’s office, mostly for mouthing off. Physical fights weren’t my thing. Then again, many students over the years had been afraid of me. Some girl I’d befriended once told me it was my confidence. Maybe so. Or maybe it was my height. I was about five foot eight, slender, big boobs, with a face that got the attention of a modeling agent, if that said anything about my beauty.
As pathetic as it sounds, I was saved by the bell.
Students pounded out of the classroom as though they were headed for a Black Friday sale. Funk You pushed to his feet, watching me the whole time.
“You got a name?” I asked. “It’s not fair you know mine.”
His thick lips split into an amazing smile that practically knocked me out of my chair. “Train Everly.”
I thought about asking him why his parents had named him Train, but I had my own issues with my name. Besides, his name was super cool.
I rose, trying to shake off the aftereffects of the explosion that had rocked my body from the minute I laid eyes on him. Then I began yelling in my head. Guys never affect me the way this dude does.
“Well, Hannah Montana. We have beach parties. We don’t dance. We do drink. And if you don’t like music, then you’re not welcome at our parties.”
I clenched my fist as I headed for the door, wanting desperately to go all Muhammad Ali on him even though he had me soaked to my core, but Mr. Salvatore held up his hand when I reached his desk.
I puffed out air as I frowned at Mr. Salvatore. “I know. My mouth. I talk too much. I have to pay attention. And if I don’t, you’ll send me packing.”
Pressing his lips into a thin line, he smoothed his fingers over his mustache. “I give students two chances. You’ve used one today.”
Yippee. I loved rules… not.
I saluted him like a sailor, thanks in part to a military dude who dated my mother. Oh yeah, I had a closet full of male stereotypes that I’d learned a habit or two from. That was how many men my mom had dated.
I dashed out and ran smack into Small Bladder Girl.
Her big brown eyes danced with excitement. “Hi. I’m Elvira. You’re new here.”
I nodded. “Well, Elvira, do you have to pee again?”
She was swaying back and forth as she held her backpack. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry about your head. It looks like it hurts.”
“Nah. I’ll live.” My gaze traveled down the hallway as though imaginary hands had guided my head that way. Train was talking, or more like arguing, with Brad Pitt’s twin. Yum.
Elvira tracked my line of sight. “Which one? Train or my cousin, Austin?”
“Do all the boys in this school look like they belong in Hollywood?”
Elvira busted out laughing.
“I’m Montana, by the way, and don’t you dare make a reference to that Miley Cyrus show.”
She snorted. “I wouldn’t dream of it. I hate when people start singing that Elvira song. My mom loved the Oak Ridge Boys, so I’m stuck with the aftermath of her desires.”
It was my turn to snort. “My mom decided to name me after the state I was born in.”
“It seems we’ll get along just fine, then. Come on. I’ll introduce you to Austin, and you can call Train a dick again. Austin will love to hear that.”
“I’m not so sure Train will,” I said more to myself than to her.
When I skirted around a Gothic boy, I spied a blonde rushing up to Austin as though she was eager to talk to him. “Who’s the blonde who just walked up to Austin?”
“That’s Reagan. She was sitting in front of you in computer class. She has a thing for Austin.”
I didn’t recognize Mousy Girl. Then again, I’d had a front row seat to the back of her head.
“Train,” a deep male voice shouted from behind us.
I tossed a look over my shoulder and was met with a football soaring through the air with my name on it. Elvira grabbed my wrist and pulled me toward the lockers just as a whirring noise clipped by my ear.
Jeez. This school was more dangerous than the halls of my last high school in New York.
Train caught the ball like an NFL player.
“Good thing he plays football,” Elvira muttered.
I touched my racing heart, letting out a deep breath. “Good thing you have quick reflexes.”
She giggled. “I couldn’t let you get hurt a second time.”
The bulky dude who had thrown the football sped past, and Elvira punched him in the arm. “Derek, you’re not supposed to throw in the halls.”
He glared down at her from his six-foot height. “I can do what I want. Besides, I was throwing the ball to my quarterback.”
I rolled my eyes upon learning that Train was a quarterback. I shouldn’t be stereotyping, but the girls at my last school had been all giddy over the quarterback, Deacon Shale. He didn’t have the drooling good looks Train had, but I would bet the girls in this school were gaga over the hunky football player. “Isn’t football reserved for the field?”
Derek raised a thick dark eyebrow. “You must be new in this school.”
Train stalked up with Austin, beaming at me. “Don’t pick on the new girl.”
I blushed. I never blush at a boy. I was mentally searching my body for the lust that should have been making me squeeze my thighs together rather than that mushy, swoony, heart-stopping feeling.
Austin’s brown gaze swept over my entire body. “Hey, cousin. Who’s your gorgeous friend?”
I mentally raised an eyebrow. No goose bumps, no butterflies, no lust with Austin, and he was gorgeous. Weird.Then my attention shifted to Train, whose gaze licked every part of my body. In my head, I broke out in hysterics as my damn skin tingled.
“This is Montana.” Train said my name with a heavier Southern drawl than before, and again, my body was leaning toward him, wanting him to read bedtime stories to me while his fingers did naughty things to my body.
Austin slapped his denim-covered leg. “Like Hannah Montana?”
The heat flushing through my body turned to a raging fire. I scratched my nose with my middle finger.
Austin lifted one white-blond eyebrow as Elvira swatted at him. “Leave my new friend alone.”
I could certainly handle my own battles, but I stuck out my chin a bit more, happy as my former cat when I’d scratched his ear that a person I barely knew had my back. Regardless, it was time for me to skedaddle. Bonding was great, but I wasn’t worried so much about Austin or anyone making the Hannah Montana reference as I was about Train and the urges I had to give him a sexual test-drive. I couldn’t risk any sip out of his fountain. With my luck, he would snag my heart and probably rip it out like Nikko had.
Just as I went to take a step, a loud bang tore through the hall, sounding as if a bomb had detonated. Chaos erupted. Girls screamed. Boys shouted. Doors slammed. Kids pushed one another. Teachers darted out of nearby classrooms, waving kids in. Like everyone else, I rushed to the nearest room, but I tripped over someone or something. I scurried to my feet only to be pushed down again by people running to get away. For fuck’s sake. I crawled in between people running in all directions, when a muscled arm, smelling like the ocean, wrapped around me, a hand clasping onto my boob. But I didn’t care where anyone touched me as long as I got out of harm’s way.
“In here,” Train said in my ear when I was upright.
Before I could protest or react, he was pushing me into the boys’ bathroom. As soon as we rushed in, the fire alarm trilled, jolting me back to life. Then a man’s voice blared from the overhead speakers in the hall. “This is not a drill. Head to the nearest exit in an orderly fashion.”
“Come on.” Train held out his hand. “It must be a fire.”
I hoped to hell it was just a fire and not some crazed kid who wanted to blow up the school. I slid my hand into his large, rugged, and protective one. When we emerged from the restroom, a faint smell of smoke made its way into my nostrils.
A sea of students paraded down the hall, their voices droning on as though nothing had happened. Then again, I shouldn’t have been freaking out. I attended a school in New York, where we’d had a few scares of students getting through security with guns and knives. One boy had even threatened a teacher with his gun.
“Something happened in the chemistry lab,” a girl in front of us said.
“You know the drill, people,” a deep male voice shouted ahead of us. “File out to the front lawn.”
I didn’t know the drill, and neither did my heart.
Students began to whisper. Others were texting and shuffling along with the group.
“Um, Montana.” Train’s syrupy Southern voice was medicine for my frayed nerves. “You don’t have to cut off my blood circulation. I kind of need my fingers to throw a football. Otherwise, Coach will have a coronary if I can’t play.”
“Aren’t you shitting your pants?” I asked.
“Not really. I’m a lifeguard. I can’t be scared when I’m saving lives.”
I let go of his hand. No one else seemed scared. So I shouldn’t be, either. “So a quarterback and a lifeguard?” I wouldn’t mind seeing him in swim trunks.
“Do you have a problem with that?” He sounded hurt.
“I bet you get all the girls.”
He leaned in. “Jealous?”
“You’re not my type.” Liar, liar, pants on fire.
He shook his head as we stepped out in the fresh humid air. I couldn’t tell what his reaction was. All I knew was my life wasn’t in danger… or maybe it was. Maybe Train would be the end of me.