“Unputdownably romantic!” —Tammara Webber, New York Times bestselling author of Easy
For most of her teenage life, CeCe Edmonds has been dealing with the stares and the not-so-polite whispers that follow her around Edgelake High. So she has a large scar on her face—Harry Potter had one on his forehead and people still liked him.
CeCe never cared about her looks—until Emmett Brady, transfer student and football darling, becomes her literature critique partner. The only problem? Emmett is blindsided by Bryn DeNeuville, CeCe’s gorgeous and suddenly shy volleyball teammate.
Bryn asks CeCe to help her compose messages that’ll charm Emmett. CeCe isn’t sure there’s anything in his head worth charming but agrees anyway—she’s a sucker for a good romance. Unfortunately, the more messages she sends and the more they run into each other, the more she realizes there’s plenty in his head, from food to literature. Too bad Emmett seems to be falling for the wrong girl...
Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book involves one fiercely scarred girl who wants the new guy in town, the new guy who thinks he wants the new girl, and the new girl who really isn’t sure what she wants, and the misunderstanding that brings them all together. This modern Cyrano de Bergerac retelling will make you laugh, swoon, and fall in love.
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Don't Kiss the Messenger
Edgelake High School
By Katie Ray, Jenn Mishler
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Katie Ray
All rights reserved.
As I followed a line of students up the stairs of the administration building I started to note the double takes and neck swivels in my direction. I passed two girls heading toward me, and one of them, sporting blonde hair with the ends dyed a washed-out blue, caught sight of my face and faltered. She grabbed her friend's arm as if she had gone weak.
"Oh my God," Blue Hair said, loudly enough that her friend and I and half the campus could hear.
I paused for a moment to give her a good look at the right side of my face. It wasn't the place for a lesson in manners, so I opted for my death glare, which had been known to instill terror in the cockiest of freshman volleyball recruits.
I summoned my best serial killer voice. "You should see the other girl's face."
Blue Hair's eyes widened. I gave her another hard shove with my eyes before she grabbed her friend's arm and hurried down the steps. I turned and headed for the entrance doors, careful not to make eye contact with anyone else, determined to ignore the piercing stares, bruising comments, and all the weapons the world could brandish.
Despite the mob of students milling inside the building, the lobby space felt unusually peaceful. A baby grand piano stood in the corner of the room under a glass-roofed atrium. The musician was playing something classical. I stopped and glanced at an easel by the door that read "Student Wellness Initiative. Co-sponsored by the Health Services and Edgelake Music Department." The piano piece sounded familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. Not enough notes for Mozart, not tragic enough for Beethoven. I knew Shazam didn't work on live music — no embedded RIAA code — but I surreptitiously pulled out my phone anyway and recorded a few seconds of the song. Maybe I could identify it later.
Before I turned, a crowd of students parted and I briefly glimpsed the musician's hands. His long, supple fingers moved expertly over the keys. I could see the tendons in his tanned forearms working to make the music sound effortless.
My phone suddenly buzzed, jolting me back to my reason for being here. I pulled it out of my pocked and glanced at the screen reminder — my first class of fall semester was beginning in two minutes.
The piano player had started another song. This one I recognized as Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Morning sunlight fell through the atrium ceiling, illuminating the room like a cathedral. I felt a sudden surge of the despair that I usually held at bay. It must be the Beethoven.
I wove through a maze of hallways until I found Honors Shakespeare. Even science-minded students like me had to take six credits of literature, and I'd already read some of Shakespeare's plays freshman year.
I walked into a small discussion room with three long tables set up in a
"U" formation. Choosing a seat was easy. I always sat at the far right end of the table nearest the door. All the other seats were across from me or to my left. It was easier if I let people get to know me a bit before I gave them a good look at the right side of my face. Or maybe it was just out of habit. The room filled up quickly. Most of the students seemed to know each other already. This was an honors-only class and most of the students were aspiring English professors. They probably already had acceptance letters to Ivy League schools.
"I know it's a tight squeeze," said the professor, identified on the syllabus as Dr. Sarah Watford. "They wanted to put us in a lecture hall, but I wouldn't let them. They offered to give us this meeting room. It's so much more intimate, isn't it?" She had a melodic voice, surprisingly low for such a tiny person. Her blonde hair fell slightly below her chin and had streaks of silver in it.
She began her introduction, starting with her teaching background, until the door creaked open and a student walked in. She stopped mid-sentence and stared at the intruder. I looked over and caught his brown hair as he turned, looking for an open seat. All of the chairs were taken.
He cleared his throat and mumbled an apology for being late. Watford spotted a stack of chairs in the corner of the room behind her podium.
"We're a little crowded in here," she said. She walked over and tried to tug a chair off the top of the stack but it was stuck.
"Here, let me," said Late Boy. He towered over her, broad shoulders flexing under his T-shirt as he pulled the chair off.
"You can sit at the end of the table," Watford said, and pointed in my general direction. I moved my books and coffee mug over to give him room, irritated by his intrusion into my space. I usually shifted my face so only my left profile was exposed, especially under the scrutiny of male eyes. But aside from shoving the hood of my sweatshirt around my face, I had no way to hide. Even my long, dark hair wasn't an option, uselessly constrained in a French braid.
Sitting down, he unzipped a canvas backpack and pulled out a notebook. It was a fancy one, bright orange and opening at the top instead of the side like my spiral-bound Mead. Out of his back pocket he pulled a mechanical pencil. Its metal casing gleamed. It looked heavy.
The professor interrupted my observations. "In case anyone else is lost, this is Honors Shakespeare. If you're not signed up to take Honors Shakespeare, you may want to leave now." A girl giggled. Someone shifted in their seat. No one left. Professor Watford began introducing herself again. The smooth alto tones faded into the background as I continued to watch Late Boy. He was writing something in his notebook. His head was bent over the page, light brown hair obscuring his face. He was left-handed. A regular spiral notebook would have been awkward.
"Now that I've told you a bit about me ..."
I had missed it all.
"... I'd like you to partner with the person next to you and take turns interviewing each other. Then we'll go around the room and you'll introduce one another."
* * *
I looked up from my notebook and raised my eyebrow at the teacher. She was going to make us do an icebreaker? In an advanced class?
The girl next to me shifted in her seat. When I looked over, my eyes were immediately drawn to a thick, puckered line that ran all the way down the side of her face, splitting past her cheek, nearly grazing her lips. It branched out in small, spider veins like the path of an intricate web. It was intriguing as hell, like staring at a bolt of lightning flashing against her skin.
I met her eyes — dark brown and impenetrable, with an air of confidence that bordered on hostile. I've been around a lot of athletes and they carry an arsenal of attitude. I'm used to these kinds of expressions on the field. But women don't usually look at me like this, putting up a Do-Not-Mess-With-Me force field.
She kept her eyes on mine, like this was some kind of a stare down and the first person to look away was a coward. I didn't even know this girl, but one thing was certain — she was a force you didn't want to mess with. I started to smile because her badass scar completely fit.
She looked surprised, like she wasn't used to drawing smiles out of strangers. I nodded in her direction.
"Ladies first," I said, after it was apparent she wasn't jumping at the chance to do an icebreaker. It took her off guard.
She raised her eyebrows. "Do I detect southern manners?" she asked.
"Does southern Pennsylvania count as the South?"
She leaned her head to the side.
"Why were you late?" she asked. "Freshman?"
"Transfer." I sounded more irritated than I intended. But I knew I didn't look like a damn scrawny-limbed freshman.
"Well, if being female wins me the coin toss, I guess I'll interview you first," she said.
"Who's your hero?" she asked.
I frowned just a little. "I thought we were covering the basics. You know? Name, major, hometown?"
"That's boring. If we have to engage in this ridiculous exercise, I'd at least like to ask real questions. Who's your hero?"
"My dad." The answer blew off my tongue before I could hold it back. This was the last place I wanted to bring up my dad. It wasn't an icebreaker. More like an ice generator.
She shook her head. "That doesn't count."
"I beg your pardon?"
"It needs to be a public figure," she clarified.
"Mike Reid," I said without hesitating.
"Mike ... Reid. I'm drawing a blank."
"He played football for the Cincinnati Bengals."
"Your hero is a pro football player?" she asked, sounding disappointed. And bored.
"In between seasons he was a concert pianist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. After he retired from football he became a singer/songwriter."
This detail seemed to peak her interest. "You're a fan of football and music?"
"Yeah. A fan." I smiled, looking down as I fiddled with my pencil. I noticed she was staring at my arm, which I realized was invading her work space. I pulled it back, and she looked at me like she was struck with sudden déjà vu. She tilted her head back like she was trying to see me from a different angle.
"What?" I asked.
"Were you by any chance playing the piano in the atrium before class?"
Now I cocked my head to the side. "Yeah. We all have to do volunteer hours. I was getting mine over with before the season starts."
"The football season?" she guessed, and I nodded.
"Where did you transfer from?"
"You ask a lot of questions," I said.
"It's the standard interview process."
I smiled. "It's a small school in Pennsylvania. You wouldn't have heard of it. I wanted to stay close to home. And they had a decent football team."
"Then why did you transfer?" she asked.
"I didn't want to be close to home anymore."
I knew it was a cryptic answer. She waited for more, but I didn't offer up any details.
She tapped her fingers on her notebook, probably wondering why someone would transfer their senior year of high school. I noticed a red Adidas gym bag on the floor, next to her feet. I had the same one. They were only issued to student athletes.
I looked back at her, piecing a few things together. So she was an athlete. That explained her don't-fuck-with-me gaze.
"Time's up," Professor Watford interrupted us. "Who would like to begin?"
I leaned closer to her. "I don't know anything about you," I whispered.
She threw me a cocky smile, like she was daring me. "Make something up."
I smiled back, a scheming smile. Challenge accepted.
Professor Watford started with me. I cleared my throat, gearing up for my monologue.
"My partner prefers to be called by her nickname, Sparkles," I said. "She grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, and she can't wait to go to college to pursue a major in Poultry Science."
I looked down at my notebook and pretended to refer to interview notes.
"Her favorite sport is cheerleading. Her hobby is body painting. She collects elephant figurines. Oh, and she's allergic to tree nuts," I added, carrying off my speech with the cheeky aplomb of someone who had just aced a public speaking class.
The class was quiet and a room of unbelieving eyes stared at us. The girl next to me cleared her throat and opened her mouth, probably to one-up me in the creative bullshit department when Professor Watford cut her off. She moved on to the next group of partners before she had a shot at retribution.
By the time we made it around the room, I had forgotten all the trite details about everyone's life. And that's when the other shoe dropped.
"Now you all know someone in the class, if you didn't already," Professor Watford announced. She went on dramatically, "This is a reading-intensive course. Each week, two people will be assigned to lead a class discussion. You have just become acquainted with your first discussion partner."
Her eyes turned directly to me and my newfound partner. "In the future, understand that all of my teaching methods, despite how trivial they may seem to some of you, have a purpose and will be taken seriously."
I looked down at my notebook and blew out a sigh. Great first impression.
I leaned over to the girl sitting next to me. I figured it was time to make amends. "Nice to meet you. I'm Emmett." I held out my hand. She stared down at it for a second, hesitating, and then cautiously extended her own. We shook, and it felt like a truce.
* * *
When class ended, Emmett scooted his chair back and shrugged his backpack over his shoulders. I grabbed my duffel bag as he walked out the door ahead of me.
"Hey," I said to his back once we were in the hallway. "You got me in trouble today."
I normally don't stalk after guys, especially the type of guys that were probably used to a female fan parade, but I had the habit of speaking my mind when someone irritated me. After all, if you don't call people out on their bullshit, you are just perpetuating a generation of assholes.
He turned and smiled widely, and I tried to appear unaffected by the way his smile hit me, like a drum banging in my chest. I was still trying to process the fact that this guy sitting next to me was playing classical music an hour ago.
"You told me to make stuff up," he said.
I frowned. "I wasn't expecting a creative writing essay," I said.
"Maybe you shouldn't have pinned me for a dumb jock here purely on a sport's contract."
I looked away, annoyed he completely read what I had been thinking. I couldn't shake the way he had studied me during the lecture. I had kept waiting for the usual expression of sympathy, or disgust, or awkward embarrassment to settle on his face. But he never looked put off, more thoughtful.
"If Watford docks my attendance grade because she thinks my name is Sparkles, I have you to blame," I said.
He shook his head. "Do you really think Professor Watford would do anything as conventional as take attendance?"
I turned away, a little at a loss for words. I had met enough football players to assume the terms quick and agile applied to muscles outside of their brains. People rarely surprised me, but in the last hour he had surprised me more times than I could count.
Emmett glanced down at my duffle bag. "So, I take it cheerleading isn't your sport?"
I could feel his eyes on me. It was unnerving. I wanted to turn his face away with the shove of my hand.
"You're pretty short for basketball or volleyball," he mused. "Maybe tennis? Or maybe you just like to smack the shit out of something. Golf?"
I narrowed my eyes, but it only made him grin. The smile lit up his face, especially his eyes, but I looked away before I could determine their exact shade.
At the exit he held the door for me. I stopped and regarded him before I walked through. He pressed his back against the door to keep it open.
"Did you learn that at cotillion?" I asked.
"I don't think they have cotillion classes in Harrisburg," he said.
"Then what is up with the southern gentleman act? It's a bit much for around here," I said.
"I was born below the Mason-Dixon line," he stated.
I walked through the door just as a train of women headed our way, leaving him holding the door for all of them. "I still didn't get your name," he called after me. I laughed in response and kept walking. I hoped he would be stuck holding the door all day. Let him pay the price for having excessive manners.
It was a beautiful late summer morning, a blue sky without a trace of clouds and crisp air that smelled like leaves and hinted at fall. The sun warmed my skin as I headed down the steps. I still felt unnerved, gripped by the urge to get away from Emmett's sight. He had already seen my scar — that wasn't it. Maybe I was uncomfortable with the fact that it didn't seem to affect him.
A ten minute walk took me to the slanting parking lot across from the looming Field House, a hundred-year-old arena. Tuba was waiting for me outside the stadium entrance. She was our starting setter, my house mate, and my best friend. Tuba's real name was Christine, but no one ever called her that just as no one ever called our middle hitter Mac by her real name, Molly, or our outside hitter VanBree by Vanessa.
"Bryn's starting today," she reminded me, her brown eyes filled with excitement at the prospect of our new offensive weapon. Bryn DeNeuville was a transfer, fresh off of summer training camp with Olympic coaches in La Jolla, California. I hadn't met Bryn yet, but I had seen game film. If she played half as well as she looked on tape, our team wanted to make her feel very welcome.
The familiar damp concrete smell invaded my nostrils as we made our way through the tunnels to the women's volleyball locker room.
The minute I set foot in the doorway I looked around the locker room for our new outside hitter. I had seen enough of Bryn's image on screen to vaguely recognize the new junior seated on the rug, one impossibly long leg stretched out in front of her and the other bent like a pretzel as she twisted across her perfectly muscled thigh.
Excerpted from Don't Kiss the Messenger by Katie Ray, Jenn Mishler. Copyright © 2017 Katie Ray. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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