Read an Excerpt
I’ve decided that life is a bit like a standardized test. Not putting down an answer because you fear it could be wrong will lower your overall score. Now, as many of my friends (and a few of my enemies) will tell you, I have a tendency to overanalyze. I’m aware of this characteristic within myself, and I do my level best to overcome it. As a result, I have occasionally been known to make snap decisions that, in retrospect, were probably mistakes.
Then I remember what those nice folks at the Princeton Review told me, back when I was a green seventeen-year-old terrified I’d never get into college: Narrow down your options and make an educated guess.
But be careful. You never know where that decision is going to take you.
Almost a year ago, I accepted the tap from Rose & Grave, Eli University’s most powerful, exclusive, and notorious secret society. I knew my life would change. What I didn’t realize was how. I figured my induction into their order would net me some contacts in my preferred field, add extra oomph to my resume, and provide an insurance plan for the future that loomed just beyond my next set of final exams.
What I didn’t expect was that it would open my eyes to a whole world of my own potential. I no longer even wanted the job I’d once hoped Rose & Grave would help me get. I also didn’t count on a host of new friends, some of whom I’d never dreamed of associating with before—a few of whom I’d actively disliked. I certainly never knew how much danger one little club membership could result in, though I’d spent the last year being threatened, thwarted, chased, conspired against, and even once—bizarrely—kidnapped.
But most of all, I didn’t realize that the following March, I’d be sitting on a couch that looked like it had been fished out of the trash, staring at a guy I’d never even have looked twice at, and wondering if I dared answer the following:
Amy Haskel, are you in love?
C)Insufficient Data to Answer This Question
Oh, hell, it’s C, which is why there was no way I was going to let our Spring Break fling end. He couldn’t do the secret hooking-up thing anymore? Fine. We’d try something new.
“I’m really sick of secrets,” I said, and kissed him.
Brilliant as Jamie Orcutt is, it took him several seconds to parse the meaning of my statement. When he did, the kiss turned from hesitant to heated in no time at all.
Somehow we shifted from a relatively decent and G-rated side-to-side to something that rated the sort of parental supervision we had zero interest in at the moment. And, say what you will about how the couch looked, it certainly felt comfortable once I was sandwiched deeply between the cushions and Jamie. I clung to his shoulders as if I were drowning and he knotted his fists into my shirt, sliding the material away from my skin as his mouth moved south over my throat.
“Ja . . .” I said on a sigh, and then, as his tongue flicked over my collarbone, “Puh . . .”
He lifted his head. “You are never going to get it straight, are you?”
“Unlikely.” I slid my hands down his back, to where his sweatshirt ended and his skin was bare. “It’s tough enough to even think of you as Jamie and not as—” Poe. I stopped myself in time to avoid the fine that punished us for using our society code names beyond the confines of the tomb.
“This is troublesome,” he said. “But then again, that’s your society name.” He tapped my nose.
Bugaboo. Yes, and he’d probably had a hand in choosing it, too, now that I thought about it. Malcolm wouldn’t have been so snarky on his own. “You want to know what’s even more troublesome?” I scooted up. “Our real names rhyme.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, they do. I never thought of that.”
“People are going to laugh whenever they say things like, ‘We should invite Amy and Jamie to the party next weekend’ or ‘Let’s go on a double date with Amy and Jamie.’?”
He frowned. “I’m now required to go on double dates with your friends? Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”
Especially since the majority of said friends had no particular love for him. “I’m just saying, ‘Amy and Jamie’ sounds a bit pathetic.”
But he was smiling. “I was just thinking how nice it sounds.”
I blushed, and just as quickly, the concerns started crowding into my head. What kind of person gets into a relationship less than two months before graduating from college? Was I mad? Jamie was in law school, here, at Eli, for the next two years. I had no idea where I’d be. When I left town at the end of May, there was no way our relationship would be ready for the long-distance thing (if it even lasted until then), and I had no intentions of sticking around New Haven for a boyfriend I’d just started dating. This was silly. I was setting myself up for an even worse heartbreak come commencement.
“I should go,” I said.
“What?” He shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t think so. You can’t just show up on my doorstep, drop this bombshell on me, then disappear.”
“I have work to do . . .” I began vaguely.
“You just got off a twenty-hour car trip.” He caught my hands in his. “You have relaxing to do.” His thumbs slid over the scabs on my wrists and we both winced. He looked down. “I’m glad I wasn’t there that night,” he said softly. “I don’t think I would have trusted myself.”
“You? Mr. In-Control Poe?” Crap.
He wagged his finger at me. “See? You can’t keep it straight. And yeah. I might have killed that kid.”
“You wouldn’t have been alone.” Half my club had wanted to kill Darren Gehry for drugging me and dragging me off in a twisted, dangerous version of what the teenager had convinced himself was a society prank. I was the only person who understood that we might have been to blame for giving him that impression.#*
My hands escaped Jamie’s and twisted around each other in my lap. He noticed, in the way he has of noticing everything.
“Stay here for a while,” he said. “I’ll cook something for you and we can talk. You can ask me all those personal questions you’ve been so relentlessly curious about, and I can . . .” He trailed off.
#*And some of my friends were still muttering the word “Stockholm” in my vicinity.
He could what? Give me a foot massage? Seduce me? Lecture me about the importance of tofu in cuisine? He knew everything about me already. He had exhaustively researched my past when they’d tapped me into Rose & Grave. Scary thought. I’d never before dated a guy who could name all my elementary school teachers, who knew every one of my worst fears and how best to exploit them.
It’s kind of like dating your stalker.
“We’re a little past first-date conversation where I’m concerned,” I said. Of course, back when he’d done all that research, he’d felt nothing for me but contempt. In Jamie’s opinion, I hadn’t been good enough for Rose & Grave. He’d changed his mind now, though. Right?
He cupped my face in his hands and kissed me, and all my fears dissolved. “We’re a little past first dates, too.”
After dinner, Jamie walked me back to the gates of Prescott College. I swiped my proximity card at the sensor and pulled open the door. “Well,” I said.
He rested his hand on the bars. “Well.” A flash of memory: Jamie gripping these same bars last semester as we shouted at each other. I wouldn’t let him in, and I’d left that evening with George. George, with whom I’d been sleeping in a no-strings-attached affair that now seemed beyond alien. Who was that girl, Amy?
“Come up for a minute,” I went on. “You’ve never seen my suite.”
Here’s something new: When Jamie looks at me now, his eyes, those cold gray eyes of his, almost smile. I didn’t know eyes could do that.
We wandered through the courtyard, which remained mostly devoid of students. Spring Break had come to a shuddering stop as folks drifted back to campus. Some of the windows overlooking the courtyard were illuminated, but the suite I shared with Lydia remained dark.
Jamie caught my hand as I crested the steps to my entryway and tugged me back into his arms.
I laughed inside the kiss. “If this is supposed to demonstrate our new ability to kiss in public, you picked a pretty pathetic venue. No one’s here.”
“Baby steps,” he said, as I unlocked the door to the entryway. As I wrestled with the doorknob to our suite, he nibbled along the neckline of my shirt. I flicked on the lights to the common room, but Jamie showed no interest in our décor; he just pulled me onto his lap on the couch and started kissing me for real.
A moment later, someone cleared a throat.
I looked up to see Lydia and Josh standing in the doorway to her bedroom. The former looked amused, the latter, gobsmacked.
“You’re home!” Lydia said, then looked at Jamie. “And you have a guest.”
I slid off Jamie’s lap and we stood, knees knocking against the coffee table. “Just got home,” I said. “I didn’t realize you were here.”
“Clearly,” my best friend replied, not even trying to hide her glee. She shoved her hand at Jamie. “I’m Lydia, Amy’s roommate.”
“I’ve heard about you,” he said. “Jamie Orcutt.”
“Nice to meet you.”
He then turned to Josh. “Jamie,” he said, and stuck out his hand.
Josh shook himself free from shock. “Um, Josh,” he said, a moment too late, and with a complete lack of believability.