I just met the girl of my dreams. Megan Davenport is funny and smart, and she
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Crazy Pucking Love
A Taking Shots Novel
By Cindi Madsen, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Cindi Madsen
All rights reserved.
Me + new living situation + college classes - everyone all up in my business = endless opportunities and the chance for a whole new, stronger me.
Me + no longer holding back who I am + regaining control of my life = happier me.
Me + making mathematical equations out of my life instead of finishing unpacking = procrastination level: expert.
The excitement coursing through me made it hard to focus, and before I seriously finished unpacking and arranging my things in my new dorm room, my brain needed to reduce all of those thoughts to the most simple equation, because math nerds like me loved that kind of thing.
Me + Boston College = a fresh start
For two years I'd wanted to escape from my life in general, but I especially wanted to get away from toxic friendships and never-ending gossip, and out of the living situation with my aunt, who couldn't be any more clear that she wished she hadn't gained custody of me after my parents' death. Don't get me wrong, I was grateful for everything she did for me, but living under a roof with her was oppressive, not to mention extremely lonely.
Loneliness shouldn't be an issue here, I thought as I glanced around the tiny dorm room. The place was considerably more cramped than my former residences. I'd be sleeping about ten feet away from my roommate every night — or at least I'd be attempting to, as sleep and I weren't on good terms right now, and hadn't been in quite some time.
The white wall I'd hung my corkboard on had obviously seen many, many coats of paint through the years, the carpet was the flat kind that'd be itchy to lie on — not that I'd ever actually lie on it, because gross — and the closet could only accommodate about a fourth of my clothes and shoes, and that was after shoving it so full there'd probably be a jack-in-the-box effect whenever I opened it.
While my new digs didn't exactly scream homey, they did scream freedom and endless possibilities.
I took a deep breath of air, and when it smelled more like staleness and stuffy boxes than opportunity, I cracked a window. The January air held a chill that made me reach for my jacket and zip it all the way up. The ends of my hair caught in the plastic teeth, and I lost a few strawberry-blond strands in the process of tugging it loose — luckily I had more than enough hair to spare a lock or two.
I glanced over the grounds, watching the people milling around campus. People who didn't know who I was, or who my family was, or all the drama that had surrounded me for ... well, as long as I could remember, but especially the past two years.
I did it! I managed to graduate high school early and get out of New Hampshire. I did a fist pump, then swung my hair around and added a booty shimmy.
"Oh my gosh, I'm going to catch pneumonia in here. It's freezing."
I turned to face my new roommate, Vanessa, who of course had a guy with her, because having only one person witness my booty dance wouldn't be embarrassing enough. She and I had met earlier today, and while I'd hoped to click with my new roomie, so far it'd been more forced encounters of the awkward kind. Apparently her former roommate had cracked under the pressure last semester, and that was why this slot had opened up.
I hope my bed's not cursed. That's the last thing I need for my fresh start.
The side of me trying out the whole optimism thing pretended the change of scenery would fix my horrible insomnia, but with all the stress that'd come along with higher-level classes and adjusting to my new life, I knew that'd be pretty much impossible. I won't crack. I can't.
The window screeched as I forced it closed and secured the latch. My other disadvantage was starting spring semester instead of fall, since most people already belonged to cliques. But once I'd decided on this course of action as my best plan of escape, it'd taken some time to convince my aunt to let me pass go — otherwise known as skipping senior year, studying for and attaining my GED, and then jumping right into college a semester early.
Once my brother, Beckett, had seen how much I wanted it, he helped me apply and then enroll, despite Aunt Tessa giving it a month before I quit it, the way I did everything. By everything, she meant all the other things I'd used to try to fill the void in my life after my parents' death, before realizing that until I got away from my past, I couldn't truly start my future.
I glanced at my corkboard, where my Fresh Start Checklist hung, although with my roommate in here, I wondered if it'd be better to put it in a less conspicuous place.
But seeing it every day is what'll help ensure I stay on track.
"What's the deal with this tower o' boxes? I thought you'd be done unpacking by now." Vanessa squeezed her super skinny body through the narrow alleyway. When I'd tried to do the same, I knocked into the desk, and I was sure I'd have a bruise on my hip bone to show for it.
The deal was that the stuff in those boxes didn't fit anywhere. "I'm getting there." I just have to stop trying to find the perfect equation for my new life and cut back on the celebratory dances. "But I'm afraid the only way I'm going to find room for them is a shrinking charm."
I waved my hand at them. "Reducio." I shrugged. "Dang, I really hoped that'd work."
When Vanessa tilted her head and looked at me like I'd sprouted a unicorn horn, I realized I might need to keep the Harry Potter references to myself. Then my Fresh Start Checklist caught my eye, and number one jumped out at me.
1. No more holding back who I am to fit in
Then again, I might need to ease Vanessa into who I was. Random information just stuck in my head and popped out of my mouth, usually at the most inopportune time. It wasn't like I'd memorized every Harry Potter spell one night when I was bored and didn't have anywhere to go or anything. Just, like, half of them, and it was at a time when I often daydreamed about wielding magic and escaping to Hogwarts so I wouldn't have to face everyone at school anymore. And that was before I'd learned how bad things could really be.
But I digress.
"Don't worry," I said to Vanessa as I moved over to my boxes and opened the cardboard flaps of the top one. "That was just a joke, but I'll take care of them for reals. I just might have to rearrange some things."
No amount of arranging would make room for three boxes worth, and I'm pretty sure she knew that as well as I did. I'd even mentally drawn up schematics for hanging plastic containers from the ceiling, but I didn't have the materials, and the ceilings were low enough I worried I'd end up knocking myself out on one.
Beckett convinced me the dorms, where I'd be surrounded by girls my age and get a feel for campus, would be a good experience for me. We'd both agreed living together would be a disaster. Not only did I not want to get in the way of his and his girlfriend Lyla's sleepover fun, but he was crazy overprotective, and he would greatly disapprove of — and do his best to impede — number five.
5. Find a guy with boyfriend potential
a. Likes me for me
b. Common interests
c. Understands me — or at least makes an effort to
d. Great sense of humor
e. Makes an effort to be with me
I hoped to meet someone who would help combat the lonely, depressed feelings that occasionally tried to take over so I could have my own fun — after he was properly vetted, of course. When it came to life, I'd decided to start living more with my heart. When it came to love, I'd decided to go at it from a more logical angle. Which probably sounded backward, but I had the two flipped for the past few years and wrong decisions had definitely been made.
With the right qualifications, I was sure I could find a great guy who would be interested in more than hooking up. If I discarded logic — and statistics — I'd hold out for the mythical one. The type of love found in everything from novels to movies and TV shows to the comic books I adored. But I knew there was a difference between fiction and real life, and I was still a bit young for the happily-ever-after stage. Which was why I was looking more for someone I could snuggle up with at the end of the day. Someone to be a reprieve from life on hard days, and to share in my happiness on the good days. No false expectations, but no more crushing loneliness, either.
Although, for the record, I was mostly here for number two.
2. Start working on my math degree, exact field TBD, probably with an emphasis in engineering Obviously, the degree was a long-term goal, one that'd take me four years of hard work to achieve, which was why starting ASAP was so important to me.
When I glanced at the guy hovering in the doorway like a silent sentinel, Vanessa said, "That's Justin. Justin, this is my new roommate."
I lifted my hand in a small wave, then felt kind of stupid about the wave, but it was too late to take it back. "I'm Megan."
All I got in return was a head bob, so I returned my attention to the box of shoes I'd been halfheartedly sorting through. I closed up the top and stuck it on my desk, hoping it'd stay there despite the uneven surface of notebooks and pens still in their plastic packages, and then kicked the other two boxes underneath, as far as they would go.
I'm going to have to take them over to Beckett's apartment tomorrow. He probably didn't realize his place was going to end up doubling as my storage unit, but with enough pouting and pleading, he'll let it slide.
Maybe he'd also give me my own key, so that if Vanessa didn't thaw, I could escape to his place while he was at hockey practice, and give both her and myself some extra breathing room.
Vanessa peeled off her shirt while her — boyfriend? — chewed on a hangnail. He didn't move when her curly, dark hair caught in a button, and I almost offered her help, but she worked it free. Boyfriend or not, I'd hope any guy I stripped in front of would notice instead of look completely bored.
Should I add "wants to see me naked" under my boyfriend potential subheading? I mean, I want more of a friendship relationship with a lot of trust, but I want passion in the mix, too.
Not everything needed to be put on the list, though, and that one was obvious. It was also pretty much my last boyfriend's only goal, which hadn't worked out so well for me in the end.
My roommate pulled on a dressier cream-colored top that would totally wash me out but looked amazing with her bronze skin, and turned around. The smile I gave her probably looked way too forced, but her expression softened. Her gaze moved toward Mr. Unimpressed and Silent at the door, then slowly returned to me. "Justin and I are headed to the Quad if you want to come."
"There's a party there most weekends," Vanessa said. "They're usually pretty fun."
A college party? On my first night at college? I knew it would be ultimately uncool to squee and do another booty dance, so I kept a calm facade while my internal organs went to celebrating. "Yeah, that'd be awesome. Give me a minute to change?"
* * *
I hadn't seen Vanessa and Justin in a while — and the last time I had, they'd been grinding on the dance floor. I hadn't wanted to follow them around like a forlorn puppy, and while I'd been to plenty of parties before, that was what I felt like. An abandoned puppy completely out of her element.
I tried to dance by myself, but I felt self-conscious despite telling myself I was being bold. Brave. And that I totally knew how to bust a move.
Surrounded by a sea of people, and I still felt lonely. Story of my life, and the fact that it hadn't magically changed made my happy vibes about my newfound freedom and my first college party fade.
You knew it wasn't going to be easy. It's going to take time to meet people and find friends you click with.
I'd forgotten that I wasn't especially good at meeting people, though — it'd been years since I'd attempted it. Back in junior high I flew my nerd flag high and proud, but in the name of survival, I'd conformed in high school to fit in with the crowd. While all I'd wanted was a chance to start over as my actual self, taking on a party solo was another thing entirely.
I pulled out my phone and scrolled through my contacts. I could call Beckett's girlfriend and ask her to come help — she'd be a good wingwoman. And bonus, Lyla actually got me, weird jokes, random factual outbursts, and all. In fact, she was one of the reasons I'd decided to dig down deep, find the person I used to be before I cared what everyone else thought, and let that girl free.
But since she and Beckett had been apart over Christmas break, they were probably enjoying their reunion, and they'd no doubt be at that for quite some time. Plus, then he'd come along and throw shade at every guy I talked to. Not the best way to start any relationship, possible flirting interest or friend.
I can do this. But maybe I should start with number three before I attempt flirting and guys in general.
3. Make good, not-fake friends, who'll have my back instead of stab it
I approached a brunette girl who looked about as lost as I did. "You here alone?"
Crap. Did that sound creepy? Or like I was hitting on her? Neither was what I was aiming for. "My roommate's here, but with her boyfriend. I'm Megan."
A hint of hesitance lingered in her posture, but apparently my not psycho, I promise smile convinced her to take a chance. "Jenna."
Okay, now play it cool ...
The dartboard in the corner caught my eye. I'd passed a room with a beer pong tournament going on, but I wasn't quite bold enough to jump in and call next game there. I'd probably grab a drink eventually, but for now I wanted to meet a couple of people sober, when I could semi-control what popped out of my mouth. "Want to play a game of darts?"
Jenna slowly unwrapped her arms from around her waist. "Sure."
As we played, I found out that she was a freshman majoring in art.
"I like your earrings," she said, right as I was about to toss a dart. "Are they heavy?"
"Thanks." I reached up and ran my fingers over the large silver triangles. The last time I'd worn them, one of my supposed friends asked why I was wearing doorknockers on my ears, but I loved kitschy jewelry, and the bigger the better. "Kind of, but as long as I'm not wearing them for, like, eight hours straight, I'm good."
Without fully turning, I tossed my dart. The second it left my fingers I realized someone was walking through the line of fire, but it was too late. "Watch —"
The dart smacked into the side of the guy's head but thankfully bounced off instead of sticking into the skin. Still, I rushed to him, my tongue tripping over the apology as my face heated. "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry! I didn't see you there until it was too late, and I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
Rubbing the side of his head, he bent down, picked up the dart, and turned to fully face me. "I didn't realize anyone actually played on that board. Next time I'll know better than to walk in front of it without looking out for a girl with a mean throwing arm."
I froze, a deer in holy-hot-guy headlights. He had deep brown eyes and a ridiculously sexy scruffy face. A blue, backward baseball cap covered most of his dark hair, which looked to be on the longer side judging from the strands sticking out the back and brushing his collar.
He lifted the dart higher, and his eyebrows arched. "Did you want it back? Or was I the unknowing bull's-eye, and you just won?"
"I think I just won," I said, unfortunately out loud, and way too wistful sounding. "I mean ..." I glanced back toward Jenna, but apparently she'd abandoned me to deal with the embarrassing situation myself, because she was long gone. Guess we weren't destined to be BFFs after all. "Did I say I was sorry yet?"
"You did." He ran his gaze down me, just a quick up and down, but it made my breath lodge in my throat. One corner of his mouth lifted. "Several times, in fact. But I'm fine — I've had worse hurled at my head before."
Excerpted from Crazy Pucking Love by Cindi Madsen, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2016 Cindi Madsen. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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