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Anatomy of a Player
A Taking Shots Novel
By Cindi Madsen, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Cindi Madsen
All rights reserved.
You know those girls with no gaydar who fall in love with every gay guy within a thirty-mile radius? I lacked whatever version of radar was for players. Playdar — yeah, I was definitely missing playdar.
I trudged up the concrete stairs of my apartment complex, my heart heavy after yet another breakup — if it could even be called a breakup, considering Trevor and I had never been an official couple. Something he'd so nicely pointed out earlier tonight when I saw him on campus with another girl.
The stabbing pain in my chest returned as I recalled the way Trevor had asked Perky McBoobs to give him a second before pulling me aside. Denial and I were old friends, and she whispered that maybe he'd have some great explanation, like the girl was just a close friend — his hand in her back pocket ruled out relative. Okay, so it ruled out friend, too. I didn't go around cupping my friends' asses, no matter how close we were.
As I slid my key into my apartment door, I replayed that awful moment when the guy who'd once told me I was so sexy that he thought about me all day long claimed I was "too needy" and he was afraid I wanted more than he could give.
Did I want him to refrain from having sex with other girls while he and I were together? Of course I did. Apparently asking for the most basic relationship requirement — after three months, no less — made me needy.
And there was nothing quite like getting played by the third freaking guy in a row, only to come home to one of the cuddliest, most in-love couples ever. I knew Lyla would never purposely rub her relationship in my face, just like I knew she and Beck had earned their happiness the hard way. But it didn't make it any easier to walk in on them making out on the couch.
I shut the door behind me with a little extra force, and Lyla glanced up, obviously just noticing my presence. "Hey," she said, pulling away from Beck and tugging her disheveled clothes back into place. "Didn't hear you come in."
The first few times I'd caught them, she'd blushed and apologized profusely. Now it was commonplace enough that we were past blushing and apologies. Last weekend she'd caught Trevor and me in the same position.
Another wave of sadness crashed into me, making it feel like my chest had caved in on itself. Why does it have to hurt so bad every damn time?
Lyla's hazel eyes widened. "Oh, no. What happened?"
I'd done so well fighting back the tears on my drive home, but having someone care enough to ask that cracked the dam wide open. "You know how Trevor told me he was too busy with football stuff to hang out tonight?" My voice squeaked and I forced the next words out before I totally lost it. "I caught him on campus with another girl. It's over. Even though apparently it was never a thing anyway."
Lyla untangled herself from Beck and hugged me. "I'm so sorry, Whitney. I know how much you liked him."
I sniffed and squeezed her back. "Last year I swore that I was only going to go for sweet nerds who'd appreciate me, but then I slipped and fell for Mr. All American Football Player over the summer, so I suppose I deserve this."
"You don't deserve it," Lyla said, pulling back to look me in the eye.
I didn't. Deep down I knew I deserved someone who'd treat me right. I just didn't know how to go about finding him. Clearly I needed to avoid football players, though. Strike that. The guy before Trevor was Matt, and he'd played baseball in high school. So make it all athletes in general, and since the guy before that had been a frat boy, I might as well scratch them off the possibilities list, too.
Beck stopped the ignored movie playing in the background and ran a hand through his short blond hair. He had a bit of a dude-in-tear-filled-headlights look on his face, making it clear he wasn't sure if he should stay or flee from the crying girl drama.
I meant to let him off, but then I found myself asking, "Why can't guys just be straight with us?" I flopped onto the cushy red chair Lyla and I had picked up at a yard sale a couple of weekends ago. "Why act like you're really into a girl and say super sweet things, when you're doing the same thing to two or three other girls at the same time?"
Beck shrugged. "I was always up front that I wasn't in it for the long haul."
Lyla sat next to him and patted his leg. "It's true. He told me it could only be sex, no strings attached." She gave him a stern look and then shoved his arm, which elicited a huge grin from him. Clearly the attachment part had formed and then some.
"So what changed?" I asked, wanting the magic formula. Wanting to know how to achieve that kind of adoration and commitment so I didn't have to constantly walk around with this ache in my chest.
Beck ran his hand down Lyla's arm and linked their fingers together. "She was already my friend. She saw me at my worst and helped me through it, even when I didn't deserve it. And, well ... look at her. She's hot."
Lyla flashed him a smile, he smiled back and raised their entwined hands to kiss the back of hers, and it was disgustingly cute and envy-worthy. My lovable roommate at least looked semi-apologetic about the PDA.
I wanted what they had, and I'd been stupid enough to think that Trevor and I were heading in that direction. We'd met while taking Session II summer classes, and while I wasn't sure where we stood when I'd gone home for a few weeks between semesters, he'd texted several times, and as soon as I'd let him know I'd returned to Boston, he came over and told me how happy he was to have me back. Didn't "back" imply he'd had me in the first place?
Silly me, I'd thought he'd meant it in a relationship way, and obviously he'd meant in a booty call way. Now I wondered how many of the times he'd claimed to be busy with football he'd been scoring with chicks instead of a ball.
Yep, definitely done with athletes. In fact, the next time some ripped, suspiciously charming guy delivers a line, I'm going to let him have it. Maybe then he'll think twice about using his smooth lines to land unsuspecting girls.
Okay, that was probably a stretch, but at least he'd know that I wasn't his next mark.
Beck glanced at his phone and then said, "Babe, we should probably get going. The guys are expecting me at the party." He looked from Lyla to me. "Unless you need to stay?"
I could tell by the way he'd dragged out the words and wrapped his arm around Lyla's waist that he didn't want to go without her. I didn't want to hold her back from a party — during the first part of last year it was all I could do to get her to go out. Now she had a better social life than I did. Although I knew she often tired of the party scene quickly, it was good for her to get out, and even better that Beck liked to show her off.
"Go," I said, making a shooing motion. "I'll be fine. Maybe we can have a girls' night tomorrow, and then I can really bitch about guys without hurting Beck's feelings." I gave him a teasing smile, even though I was serious about the bitching part.
"Or ..." Lyla wound a strand of her fiery red locks around her finger, and since she'd just been to the salon for a color touchup, it reminded me I needed to do the same for my blond highlights. "Remember how you forced me to get out last year, even after Beck and I had that rough spot, and it ended up being the best thing ever?"
Yeah, because Beck got up onstage and groveled to get her back, not because the party was so great.
"Why don't you shake off that idiot's loss and come to the Quad with us?"CHAPTER 2
I'd lost count of how many drinks I'd had, but I no longer felt the anger or frustration from earlier in the day, so it seemed to be about the right amount.
The phone call I'd received this afternoon rose up again, and my hand automatically drifted to my right side — I'd sustained dozens of injuries through the years, but broken ribs and the bruised lung were the hardest to forget, and a residual ache went through them now.
I changed my mind. I need another shot.
Of course the call from my mom had come on the same day I found out I'd failed my first sociological statistics test.
A fuzzy brunette head popped into view as I reached for the bottle of vodka. I blinked, and my vision cleared enough to see the sloppy smile curving her lips. "You're one of the wingers on the hockey team, right?"
"That's what they tell me," I said, and she giggled.
"I know all of the positions." She leaned in, resting her breasts against my arm as she curled her hand around my elbow. "Hockey positions, I mean. I went to every game last year and watched you play. I can't believe I'm getting a chance to actually talk to Hudson Decker."
I grunted, the most minimal required response, and refilled my cup. As I suspected, she was the chatty type, so she continued to talk, mostly about how much she loved hockey.
"You know ..." She walked her fingers up to my shoulder. "While I know all of your hockey stats, there are a lot of other things I'd like to learn about you. My place isn't far from here."
Too easy. Usually I wasn't opposed to that kind of thing, but I didn't have the patience to nod and mumble at the right places. I certainly didn't want to suffer through her trying to pry out details about the supposed other side of me. Girls always thought they could discover my sweet, thoughtful side, but I didn't have one. If I slept with a girl, the only thing she'd ever get was superficial information. Despite what girls might think, I was actually doing them a favor by holding back. No one wanted the ugly truth about me, and I'd rather take a skate across the face than spill it. But the biggest mark against this particular girl was that she didn't intrigue me enough to keep my mind off other things.
We were supposed to be celebrating the start of the season, but with the past rising up to haunt me I felt like I was fifteen again, helpless in a shitty situation and wondering if it was worth the fight, or if I should let go for good.
When I was fifteen, I really didn't have much of a choice. A lot of things had changed, but considering the bomb my mom had dropped, and the fact that I was already struggling with a class, maybe not enough to truly make a difference.
For now I needed to focus on my stupid statistics class, because without my scholarship, I couldn't afford to stay at Boston College. Then I'd end up back home, no degree, and between the mess there and no longer having hockey as an outlet, I'd completely lose my shit.
This girl, with her over-the-top eye-batting as she put on bubble-gum-colored lipstick, certainly didn't look like she could help me with anything educational.
Whoa. A little harsh there, Decker. Apparently I'd had enough alcohol to turn into a judgmental asshole, which was a bit too much. Made me think of the very guy I was trying my best to not think about. His image brought on a burst of rage, and I curled my fists, wishing for the ice and an opponent to slam into to take the edge off.
Shit, I need to shake this off before it screws up my life all over again.
"Nice meeting you," I said to the brunette, even though whatever we'd done barely qualified as "meeting," and then I headed toward my boys. My real family, no matter what was going on with the one I'd been born into.
My roommates, Dane and Ryder, clapped me on the back as I approached. One of them shoved a beer in my hand, and the flimsy plastic cup dented and sloshed foam onto my shoes. As the rest of the team gathered and grabbed drinks, toasts were made, more alcohol was consumed.
After a bathroom break, I stumbled back toward the group, but stopped short when I caught sight of a blonde with a killer ass. Her jeans were blessedly tight and the glittery designs on her back pockets begged to be stared at and studied.
With the lights dimmed, and as much alcohol as blood buzzing through my system, it was hard to fully make out her features, but from what I could see of her profile, she had the face to match. She swayed her hips to the beat of the music that pumped through the room, and my heart gave a hard thump. Something about that girl said she'd be far from easy. That she'd make me forget everything for a while, even my own name.
I ran a hand over my face, trying to shake away the haze that dragged my limbs down and made walking a challenge. I wished for skates, because at least the ice helped you glide. While I'd probably fall on my face if I got anywhere near a hockey rink right now, the bonus of crashing on ice was it'd be right there to numb the pain.
Then again, I felt pretty damn numb right now.
Finally I made it to the sexy blonde and tapped her on the shoulder. I grinned when she spun around, but she didn't crack even a hint of a smile. "What?"
Definitely not easy, and my blood zinged with the challenge. "I'm Hudson." Whoa. Little swaying right there. I did my best to hold still, but the room was tilting again.
"I'm not interested," she said, then she turned back around and said something to her redheaded friend. The friend seemed familiar, but she was facing the other direction, and I couldn't focus on her with the many other thoughts drunkenly crashing through my head. All of them agreed that the blonde needed to be our main focus — girls like her didn't come around every day.
"I was afraid this was a bad idea," she muttered. I wasn't even sure her friend had heard her, or if the blonde hottie was purposely talking to herself. "I'm just not ready to deal with it, despite trying to dance it off and being on my second crazy-strong drink. In fact, I'm thinking — "
I tapped her on the shoulder again, and she gave an exasperated sigh before glancing at me.
"How about you and I get a drink? You know what they say ..." I winked, which I didn't think was part of my usual repertoire, but it came out anyway. "Three's the charm — I'll make sure of it."
"Look, buddy, the amount of alcohol it'd take for me to sleep with you tonight would kill me. So you might as well move on."
I laughed, which was apparently the wrong move, because she said something about how she never should've come, then grabbed her friend's arm — even though the girl had been talking to someone else — and walked away, melting into the crowd.
I wasn't sure how long I stood there staring at the place where she'd disappeared, but the next thing I knew Dane was all up in my grill, waving his hand. "Bro, you're so wasted. Remember how we agreed to go easy so we wouldn't be totally hung over at tomorrow's practice? Coach is going to kill us."
"Be fine by practice," I muttered, not sure if the words had come out right.
"Do you even know where you are?"
I knew where I was, but the rest of my mind was pretty blank, which was exactly what I'd wanted since the start of this sucky day.CHAPTER 3
I readjusted my bra so the push-up pads had maximum effect and then felt to check that my jeans weren't gaping in the back. Thanks to my Kardashian-esque booty that exercise didn't touch, finding the right pair of jeans was like finding a college guy who wanted to be in a long-term relationship.
I wanted to believe they existed — the commitment-ready guys, that is, since I'd discovered that for the right eye-bulging price I could find jeans with cool designs on the pockets which hugged and flattered and came pretty damn close to perfection — but right now it felt like I'd have a better chance at running into a unicorn on campus.
It'd been just over a week since Trevor had shown his true colors. Going to the party with Lyla and Beck only showed me there were more guys exactly like him ready to take his place. The intoxicated, tattooed dude who'd hit on me might've been ridiculously hot, but for once I hadn't fallen for a cocky smile and a line. At the time I'd been too involved in my personal pity party to appreciate my fortitude, but by the time Lyla and I had our girls' night, the thought buoyed me up and led me to a huge decision.
Until I could figure out how to break my habit of falling for guys who hurt me, I was taking a sabbatical from dating and sex to focus on my professional future. When I'd first come to Boston College, all I'd been thinking about was how I was that much closer to becoming the hard-hitting journalist I'd always wanted to be. Guys and parties had gotten in the way, but I vowed now to correct that.
Step one: meeting with my journalism professor after class. I planned on finding out what I needed to do to ensure that when I graduated, I'd have a foot-up on the rest of my competition.
Excerpted from Anatomy of a Player by Cindi Madsen, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2016 Cindi Madsen. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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