Kate ships tons of fictional couples, but IRL her OTP is her and Mick, the hot quarterback she’s crushed on since, like, forever. With only one semester left of senior year, it’s now or never if she wants to land him in time for prom. Since she’s flirtationally challenged, she enlists Cooper Callihan, the guy who turned popular seemingly overnight but who used to be a good friend.
Cooper lives and breathes rowing, but his partner just broke his wrist. When he remembers Kate’s good with a set of oars, he strikes a deal: help him train, and he’ll make sure her crush notices her. Only he didn’t know how addicting spending time with her would be. Or how the more successful the Operation is, the more jealousy he experiences.
The mission has been set. The troops have their marching orders. But what if the target is the wrong guy all along?
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Operation Prom Date
Tactics in Flirting Series
By Cindi Madsen, Stacy Abrams, Alexa May
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Cindi Madsen
All rights reserved.
Sometimes in life you had to make the best of a crappy situation. Like how instead of sulking over my lack of vehicular transport and the fact that my mom was running late — again — I used it as an excuse to sit in the parking lot near the football field, drinking a soda, working on my tan, and watching the boys scrimmage (i.e., watching the way their muscles flexed as they threw, ran, caught, and tackled one another).
Which was especially intriguing, since one set of muscles belonged to Mick, the guy I'd had a crush on for the past year. Okay, maybe more like the last two years if I were being totally honest, but there were periods in there when I'd tried to abandon it for guys who were more in my league.
Unfortunately, it never worked. For one, I was flirtationally challenged, but two, I still compared them all to the guy with the dark messy hair, soulful blue eyes, and did I mention the muscles? He was the quarterback of our team, and he liked to keep in shape between seasons — he had offers from several different universities to play next year, from our local New Hampshire University to one down in Florida and all the way to one on the west coast. Lucky university, whichever one snagged him.
To say I had it bad for him ...? Well, that was a huge freaking understatement. The middle of sophomore year, when everyone else tromped over my dropped notebook as I struggled to balance my armload of textbooks, he'd stopped. After shaking his head at the rude passersby — he even muttered a "really, dudes?"— he picked up my slightly beat-up notebook, wiped off the dirt, and handed it over with a grin.
A zing of electricity traveled up my arm, cartoon birds chirped overhead, and in that moment, I saw the sweet guy under the cool jock exterior.
My crush only grew the day he came into the ice cream shop after school with his little brother. I was there doing my homework, waiting for Mom as usual. He nodded at me, one corner of his lips kicking up, and more than my ice cream melted.
Since then I'd thought up a dozen scenarios where we exchanged more than pleasantries, he realized I was awesome, and we held hands and kissed and basically made everyone jealous of how cute we were.
Now that we were well into our last semester of senior year, with college on the horizon, I'd decided this was the semester I was going to make him mine. Whatever it took.
A tall shadow cut off my sunshine, which made my legs look tanner but would prevent them from actually tanning if whoever it was didn't move. I glanced up. And up, and up. Cooper Callihan grew taller every year, and he had to be past six feet now. He'd also filled out this year, which looked good on him, but meant he blocked more of my sun.
A crooked grin curved his mouth. "Still interested in Pecker, I see."
"Shhh!" I glared at him, trying to convey that I'd ruin his life if anyone overheard. He didn't seem scared. I also hated that he called Mick by his surname. Yes, it was a rather unfortunate last name, and from what I could tell, Mick's only flaw. Of course when you looked like he did, you made it work for you anyway.
I glanced at Mick — still a good twenty or so yards away, thank goodness — then back at Cooper. We were sort of friends, as in we shared a history class where we'd been partnered together for a project and had hung out during one summer at the lake a few years ago, when he was just a scrawny guy who spouted a lot of facts about the stars. I'd once been his rowing partner during a trip across the lake, but that was mostly by default, since my former BF not F convinced me to go with him so she could be alone with Donovan Lawson.
I twirled the end of my ponytail around my finger, noticing the tips of my brown hair were lightening thanks to the past few weeks of sunshine. "So you ... you can tell? That I ...?" I couldn't say it aloud for fear someone else would hear, even as I looked around to confirm we were alone. I lowered my voice to a whisper. "Do you think he's noticed?"
Cooper moved to sit on the parking curb next to me, bumping his hip into mine when there wasn't enough room — the guy had boundary issues, obviously. I scooted over, though, anxious to hear his answer.
"He's probably noticed," he said, leaning back on his palms and tipping his face to the sun. Of course he was still blocking half my access.
My cheeks heated and I groaned, fighting the urge to look over at Mick again. Then I sighed, my entire body deflating. "That means he would've done something about it if he were actually interested."
I waited for more, but Cooper just sat there, the sun lighting up his mop of dirty blond, slightly out-of-control wavy hair. "Explain."
"I ..." He shot me a sidelong glance and shook his head. "I'm not sure that's a good idea." The urge to storm away was strong, but that wouldn't help with my goal to win over Mick this semester. If I worked fast enough, maybe we could even go to prom together — after all, I'd been talked into being on the decorating committee, and it'd be so sad to decorate but not attend. The image of the two of us entering a decorated gym, me in a sparkly dress and Mick sporting a dapper tux and his trademark sexy smirk hit me, and longing rose up.
Wait. Do people say dapper anymore? Well, it was my imaginary dream prom. He could look dapper, and the more I thought about it, the stronger the longing grew.
That's it. No more being passive and waiting for it to magically happen. I'm going to make it happen. And I had just about two months to do it, which meant I needed to get started ASAP.
Since I was already swimming in maximum embarrassment level, I decided to dive right in and see how big of a challenge I was in for.
"Spill now," I said. "Or leave my perch."
Cooper arched an eyebrow. Just as I was about to give him a shove and reclaim my curb, he gave a resigned sigh and said, "It might not be that he's completely uninterested. You're a pretty girl and all. You just ... come across as a chick who wants a serious thing."
I frowned. "That's probably because I do."
"I know. And it shows."
My lungs tightened, refusing to take in or expel oxygen. "So glad we established that. I think I'll go now. See if I can't find some poison ivy to roll around in to top off this delightful afternoon."
As I started to stand, Cooper caught my arm. "I'm not trying to insult you."
"Then what are you trying to do?"
He shrugged. "Help."
"So far, you're doing a bang-up job."
He grinned, because apparently he didn't understand English. "Hey, you're the one who insisted on an explanation." I'd forgotten how frustrating he could be with his blasé attitude — it drove me crazy when I was trying to ensure we got an A on our history project. No wonder we'd never become closer friends. "How many girls have you seen Pecker with through the years?"
"His name is Mick."
"What kind of name is that, anyway?" Cooper took a large swig of my soda. "It's like his parents got halfway through naming him and just stopped in the middle."
"His parents met at a Rolling Stones concert — he's named after one of the greatest rock stars of all times, which I think is pretty cool."
"'Cool' isn't the word I'd use. And you know way too much about him. Now, answer the question."
I had to think past the ridiculous name discussion to remember his question. "He averages three girls a semester." When Cooper's forehead crinkled, I clarified. "Two the first half of junior year, three the second, and four last semester."
"So you're a math girl."
"I ... dabble." If by dabble, you mean I can differentiate and integrate in my sleep.
I was a bit of a math nerd, but I tried to keep it on the down low. I was actually pretty proud Cooper didn't know that about me already. Although, like Oliver Queen on Arrow, people found out my secret at an alarming rate. Pretty soon all of Starling City — er, Auburn — would know.
Maybe I've been hitting Netflix a little too hard as of late. As if I didn't already struggle enough keeping in touch with reality.
"Okay, so what about those girls' averages?" Cooper asked, enough of a grin on his face that his already conspicuous dimples stood out even more.
"You mean average intelligence?"
Cooper laughed, and despite my earlier annoyance, I found I was now semi-glad he'd stopped to harass me. "I meant more what do they have in common," he said. "How serious do they come across?"
"Not very, since they also have several guys they hook up with during the course of the school year." I already had bad blood with Paris Townsend, one of Mick's on-and-off again girls, which probably made me more judgmental than I should be. "They just go from boy to boy like it's nothing."
I could feel my eyebrows scrunching together but couldn't help it. "But if I get another boyfriend, I won't have time to actually land Mick. Especially at the rate I go."
"He just needs to see you as a non-serious or high-maintenance type. Once you catch his interest, you play it cool, and if you do it right, he'll be the one chasing you."
"Okay. Yeah. I can do that." I gave one sharp nod, because it seemed like the move to make when you got serious about something, and I was now super-duper serious about Operation Land Mick As My Prom Date.
That's kind of long. Maybe I should just cut it down to Operation Prom Date.
"Good luck." With that, Cooper tossed my now-empty Dr Pepper can in the recycling bin — so at least he recycled, and I supposed that helped negate the fact that he'd finished off my soda — and started away from me.
Panic immediately set in.
I didn't know how to catch Mick's interest or play it cool. Overthinking was my middle name. Not to mention I only had a couple of months — less, really, because people usually had dates at least a month in advance — and with the margin for error I required, that wasn't nearly enough time.
"Wait," I said, and Cooper slowly turned around. I jumped to my feet and moved over to him, wanting to make sure no one else heard this conversation. Embarrassing as it was, I was in over my head. My past failures to have more than five-minute conversations with Mick proved that. Cooper's male perspective made me realize I needed to go about things in a different way, and I needed more of that insight. "I don't know how to snag his interest or play it cool. I ...need help."
I couldn't believe what I was about to say, but Cooper had gone from the scrawny dude who talked astronomy nonstop to a rowing star who fit in with any and every group. Unlike me, he had the whole popular thing down. He already knew about my crush, too, so at this point, I figured I didn't have much to lose. "Could you maybe show me how? Please?"CHAPTER 2
How did I land myself in this mess? All I'd wanted was an afternoon on the water. Instead, I found out that my rowing partner jacked up his wrist and was going to be out for at least three weeks, maybe four.
As I cut across the field to get to my truck, I spotted Kate and thought I'd ask if she needed a ride — she lived just outside of the district and I knew that her mom often worked crazy hours. When I noticed her longingly looking at Pecker — the same look I'd witnessed a couple of months ago when we were working on our history project in the library and he'd walked in — I couldn't help but comment. Half the girls in school went crazy over the guy, who, in my opinion, was kind of a jerk.
Okay, I might be biased, since my major beef with the guy started last year at the Spring Festival, after his team beat mine in the annual race across the lake. Sure, it was in two-man wooden rowboats, not boats specifically designed to glide through the water as quickly as possible, but rowing was my thing. I'd competed with my eight-man team at State and won, after all. How could Mr. Preppy Football Player beat me?
The answer was he had a better partner. This year, I made sure that I'd have the better one — and I had, until the idiot got drunk over the weekend, fell out of a tree, and tore a ligament in his damn wrist. He'd better be ready to go by the festival, or I'll ...
Even mentally threatening to re-injure his wrist seemed too harsh, tempting or not. More than anything, I was just grouchy that I might not get as much time on the lake as he healed. It was easier to convince my parents to let all those hours slide when it involved someone else.
I'd called everyone in my list of rowing contacts, only to find people were already paired up to train for that race or other events, or busy with another sport — baseball, lacrosse, track. Dang overachievers.
"Cooper, are you even listening to me?" Kate waved her arms and stuck her full bottom lip out in a pout. "I'm practically begging here, and my pride is already injured. The least you could do is answer me."
I pulled my full attention back to Kate. Like I said, it wasn't that she wasn't pretty — with her big green eyes, long dark hair, and laidback jeans-and-T-shirt style, she had the wholesome girl next door look. But she always came across as a girl who was serious about life in general — I knew firsthand how seriously she took her class assignments and grades — and the type of girl who'd definitely demand exclusivity. Mick Pecker would never go for that, not unless she was someone else's girl and he wanted to take her away for sport.
"What do you need?" she asked, sticking a fist on her hip. "Help in a math class? I'm also pretty good at science. Or I can ... knit sweaters or scarfs or beanies."
"You knit? Wow. That's ... something my grandma does."
She made an exasperated noise, somewhere between a growl and a sigh. "You know what? Never mind. I don't want your stupid help." She grabbed her backpack and started away, throwing the words "You probably couldn't even pull it off anyway" over her shoulder.
The side of me that loved a challenge perked up. My main goals for the rest of this semester were sliding through my classes and lots of time in my boat, but I could use a little more adventure, especially since once this summer ended and college started, my life was basically over. It'd be a degree in something mundane like political science or criminal justice, then three years of law school, then sitting in an office and practicing boring law, because that's what Callihan men did.
I quickened my steps to catch up with her. "Hold on."
She spun around and narrowed her eyes. Yikes. The girl could give a serious dirty look, even though her sweet features still didn't quite match her deadly expression. "You owe me, you know. Who gave the bulk of our presentation on World War One when you were"— she made air quotes —"so tired from your last rowing competition?"
I'd been so slammed last semester, and she'd taken point, no complaints. "You got me there. I would've never scored that A without you." Which gave me an idea ... I'd seen how focused and determined she got. How organized she was. That attention to detail and time management was exactly what I needed to up my training right now. Plus, I remembered how she'd surprised me with how well she handled a boat on the lake a few summers ago. "I have a proposition for you ..."
Her eyes narrowed further, suspicion mixing in.
"My rowing partner for the Spring Festival race busted his wrist, and I need to keep up my training. How about you be my partner until he recovers?"
She wrinkled her nose.
"You asked what I needed. Not only do I need to keep up my training to ensure a top spot on Harvard's rowing team, I want to win the Spring Festival race, and I've seen you out on the lake, remember? You can handle yourself in a boat. Plus, Pec — Mick — always enters that race, too, and he's out on the water practicing sometimes. It'll only help land his attention."
Her posture relaxed a fraction. "I'm listening ..."
Was I really doing this? Hell, if anything, the girl was highly entertaining, and if it came down to me alone on the boat trying to keep track of everything while juggling the oars, or having Kate along to keep me on task and provide a more accurate picture of a two-person race, that seemed like the better option. Added bonus, it provided the time-commitment-to-someone excuse that would help keep Dad off my back. "Train with me, and I'll train you on how to land Mick."
She shushed me again. "Seriously, you always say it so loud. I don't think you can be discreet, and if this got out ..." She hugged her arms around her middle as if she needed to protect herself.
Excerpted from Operation Prom Date by Cindi Madsen, Stacy Abrams, Alexa May. Copyright © 2017 Cindi Madsen. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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