Haley Howell has had a hopeless crush on her brother’s best friend, Jake Lexington, for as long as she can remember. Too bad to him, she’ll forever be off-limits. But with senior year and acceptance to a college outside their tiny southern town of Culler, South Carolina, comes new confidence. Haley’s ready to get Jake to notice her—whatever it takes.
No one in Culler notices the real Jake anymore—to them, he’s nothing more than the star football player or the kid with the family tragedy. When one mistake lands him in community service, he’s shocked to find his best friend’s little sister there, too, looking cute as hell and threatening all his no-friends-with-benefits rules. But Jake isn’t ready to take a chance, no matter how crafty Haley’s willing to get to prove him otherwise…
Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains underage drinking, language, and a drool-worthy football player who puts Tim Riggins to shame. It will make you cry, sigh, and yearn for your own Friday Night Lights.
Each book in the Southern Charmed series is STANDALONE:
* The Sweetheart Sham
* The Crush Collision
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
There's a party going on, and I can't stop thinking about my brother. He's a constant echo on loop. At home, life is about how Jamie was and how he is now. In town, everyone asks about him or stares at me with sad eyes. Even the team is a constant reminder that my brother isn't what he used to be.
I never get a break from him.
Tonight is supposed to be my break. Senior year a couple days away, and even here all I'm doing is worrying about him. I pull my phone out and check for a text. There isn't a new one. Jamie's last text was a few hours ago.
Be safe, he'd texted.
I can't handle that shit, but I tried to play it off.
Bro, you know me.
Yeah, that's why I'm checking in.
I've got this. I'm with Howell. He won't let me do anything dumb.
Jamie hasn't responded since then. I don't like that I pissed him off. I don't want him to worry about me of all fucking people. He shouldn't be worried; he should hate me. I know I do.
"You all right?" Chris asks.
The music is already blaring through the speakers, and Newman's field is filling up with people. Tonight is the BS Party, Back to School. We call it BS because we all know that's all school is. I don't know where the underclassmen will have these parties once Newman graduates. His farm has been the center of them for as long as anyone can remember, first with his two older sisters and then with him.
I slide my phone back into my pocket. "Yeah, toss me a beer."
Howell gives me a look of disapproval. I know he hates when I go hard, but tonight is the last chance I have. Pretty soon it's all football and school and Jamie. Bless my own heart, but I don't even know if I'm going to be able to do it.
I hold out my hand, and Chris gives in, even though I know he doesn't want to.
I wasn't lying to Jamie; eventually Howell will reel me in or stop giving me beers. He always makes sure nothing happens to me. He thinks all this is part of the grieving process. He actually said that shit to me one day and told me he was here to talk. He's been watching too much Gilmore Girls.
No, really. I still can't believe he actually watches that — and not even his sister, but him. I told him I'd guard the secret but that he can't be out here trying to shrink my head with girly shit.
The bottle opens with a satisfying pop. The best sound in the world is the cap coming off that bottle. I take a swig and look around the party. The front porch is loaded with kegs, coolers of beer, liquor on the steps. We know how to party here. There's even some food, though I have no idea who brought that. It's a whole fucking buffet of Doritos down there.
"We should light the bonfire," Howell says.
"Fuck yeah," I add.
Howell calls out to Newman while I chug down half the bottle. The first time I had beer, I thought it was disgusting and bitter. Now I don't mind it so much. It's funny how you get a taste for the things you once hated when you need it badly enough.
The bonfire is a thing of beauty in the middle of Newman's field. The football team started working on it two weeks ago, built it up with wood, sticks, papers. It's four feet tall, two feet wide. Big enough that the whole town could see it. It used to be bigger, but the fire department made my brother's team take it down a notch two years ago. Still, this is going to be epic.
Newman, Howell, Montgomery, and Griggs — most of the starting lineup — begin dousing the base with fire starter. The music is still playing, alcohol passed out, and soon everyone who's at the party starts gathering around the firepit.
They know what's coming.
Abby waves at me from the crowd as I take the last swig of my beer. All summer she wanted to get with me, and I've told her it's not happening, that I'm not interested, but she hangs on. I told her I wasn't worth her time, and she said I was wrong.
That's the thing about people, especially in Culler: they only see what they want.
The music softens, and the whole football team gathers around the fire, even the JV kids. This is our night. We all know that once this fire starts, once we go back to school on Monday, our time as town heroes begins. Football is a way of life. It's sewn into the fabric of Culler, and we're all the thread.
It's weird to be seen as a hero. Once in my life, it was all I wanted. Culler was about football, and football was everything. Ever since Jamie, though, I've never felt like more of a villain. I can't handle being around him, seeing him in that chair. If I was strong enough to be a hero, things wouldn't be this way.
Howell smiles real big and cheesy at me, then he looks toward our peers. "School starts on Monday, back to the grind of teachers and homework and parents on our asses." Everyone makes this groaning, booing sound. "But we have tonight! For those of us who are seniors, it's the last party. The beginning of the end. To the rest of you, it's a reset. A new school year, a new way to define yourselves."
He's too good at this shit. He could talk a drowning man into buying a raincoat. There's a reason he's the QB: he's the leader. "We" — he points to the us — "are your team. We are going to fight for you and win some football!" Everyone cheers. Fucking cheers. This is God-like status. "Monday may be back to school, back to all the bull we have to deal with, but tonight, we are kings! All of us! You wanna be kings?"
"Yes!" they shout.
Howell smiles. "Then let's light the night up and rule over all of it!"
Howell hands me the already-lit torch. I love me some fire. I lean the torch toward the bonfire, and the others start chanting "Kings! Kings! Kings!" It's like being on the football field, hearing everyone chant for us and cheer us on, and want to win with us. United in a goal. Tonight's goal is living.
When the timing feels right, I light the pit, and the whole structure catches fire in an instant. Everyone cheers. The music starts up louder, and the sky seems to glow.
Howell, Newman, Will, and I are sitting on the porch, my eyes on the blaze. I'm on my fifth beer, and I see Other Howell standing out in the field with the other Belles. She waves at me from the little group, I guess she saw me looking over, and I wave back. Chris sees me wave and glances over his shoulder toward his sister. I take another drink of beer. Howell has made it known to the whole football team: his twin sister is off-limits.
"Did Coach sign on for that new play we made up?" Newman asks.
Howell looks between us, eyes narrowing in a little on Will and Newman's hands. They aren't touching, but they aren't not touching. It's barely there. And I sorta hate them for it. Not for the fact that they're together — they fucking deserve that shit — but that they have this bond no one else does. They have each other. I've never had someone like that, and maybe I don't deserve it at all. I only ruin things. Especially other people's lives.
"Yellow Fever. He said he'd review it," Howell says.
"I hope he lets us try it out," Newman says.
"He'll do it," I say, my eyes now on Abby. "It's a damn good play. No one will see it coming."
Howell nods and takes a drink of whatever he's got in the Solo cup. Probably some jack and Coke, knowing him. If he's drinking at all. He talks shit about school and parents and teachers, but he's smart and a good student. He works hard. He doesn't always play hard, not like me, but he's there when I need him.
Will jumps up when the song changes. "Let's go dance," he says, pulling Newman off the seat. Newman is smiling, so I doubt he'll say no, and then they're both gone into the crowd of people. Howell and I just sit there.
I pull out my phone again. Still nothing from my brother.
"How's everything at home?"
I want to tell him how it is. How fucking hard each day is, how Dad has all but checked out and any shits he gave before are gone now. How every day I look at my brother, I want to disappear instead of living with it.
I shrug. "Same old shit, another day."
"Is he seeing people?"
"Jamie. I was going to stop by with Durango. I figured he'd wanna play a little. Did he get it?"
Jamie hasn't left the house, besides for appointments, since the accident. All summer we've been sitting in that house like it's a mausoleum, waiting for the dead to rise. It's why I choose not to be there whenever possible.
I take a drink. "Nah, he didn't. We haven't really talked about it."
"Think he'd want to?"
"Yeah, you could come by. You're like his other brother, man."
"But you're okay?"
I shake my head. Here we go again with this. I'm not okay, but I'm not gonna tell him that. "What is all this shit?"
He looks at me a little too intensely, Solo cup hanging between his fingers. "You went pretty hard all summer."
"I'm bored, man. This town is too quiet when it's not football season, you know that."
"I hear you," he says, but he doesn't sound like he believes me. I want him to ask, but I don't want him to ask. If he does, I have to answer. I'm still in avoid mode.
Howell starts to say something else when I hear someone shout, "Shot Roulette! Who's up next?"
I give him a look, and he shakes his head. "Shot Roulette, man," I say. I pat his shoulder, hand him my empty bottle, and bolt off the porch toward the small crowd sitting in a circle of lawn chairs.
"Lexington!" some drunk sophomore yells. I can't remember his name.
I take a spot next to the homemade wheel. It's a really large piece of cardboard with a circle of shot glasses filled with rainbow liquors — clear, yellow, brown, red, blue — and an empty beer bottle in the middle. The sophomore — James, I think his name is — picks me and two other people.
"You know how to play?" he asks me.
I chuckle. "Yeah, man. I'll go first."
It's me, some brunette chick, James, and a basketball player we all call Hoops. Once we're in place, I spin the bottle, and it stops on a blue shot glass. I pick it up, toast Howell, who's still watching from the porch, and down the shot. It burns in my throat.
I like it. Reminds me I'm alive.CHAPTER 2
Abby insists that I'm going to fall in love tonight.
"Tonight is the night for your summer fling!" She bumps my hip as we stand side-by-side next to the bonfire. She gets this way sometimes — has these grandiose ideas in her head and then lets them have their own space to grow and live. I shrug her off because even though she's my best friend, sometimes even I have to take her with a grain of salt.
Abby is in love with ideas and dreams. I kind of always envied that about her. It's one of the reasons we work as friends. She's a helium balloon, I'm the string keeping her tied down. Life isn't as magical as she wants it to be.
She brushes a hand over the top of her head, making sure her ponytail is still perfect. It is. It always is. "You better believe this is serious. Take a chance, Hals. Plus, that palm reader said love was in your future this summer."
Internally, I scoff because yeah, a fortune teller at the summer carnival did tell me that. But it was only nosy Mrs. Baker in a costume. No one, except maybe Abby, would take her at her word. For someone who is a tried-and-true Southern Belle, she has a lot of whimsy.
"It's spreading. Georgia Ann and Lyla are both now in flip-flops," she says, peering across the field toward a small group of our other Southern Belles. Her lips curl up into a snarl. Bless her heart. "They're both going to be the death of me."
"It's flip-flops, Abs."
"It's not SBA!"
That means "Southern Belle Approved." Abby is a stickler for the Belle rules. In her mind, we need to be in heels and pearls no matter where we are going or what we are doing. She'd wear pearls under her cheerleading uniform if her coach would let her.
I hand her a drink to make it better. "Let it go this once. We've already been here for a couple hours now."
She sighs and takes the drink from my hand. "Only because it's the Back to School Party and the end of summer. First thing Monday, I'm enforcing all SBA expectations." She makes a note in her phone and then slides it back into her pocket. Not that she would ever forget this happened.
"Cheers to that," I say, mocking her a little. She gives me a look of disappointment, but it fades and is replaced with her doey-eyed smile.
"Tonight is going to be magical."
I laugh. "There's nothing magical about the BS party."
"Hals," she says, "there's everything magical. It's an ending and a beginning at the same time. Haymont boys. Lane boys. Culler boys. You don't know what could happen."
I laugh. "Yes, I do. It will be like the other parties — drinking, random hookups, maybe a fight, puking."
I made out with a boy from Lane at the last party, and it was going really well until he made a move to go further with me, even after I said I wasn't interested. After that, it was pretty much the end for me, besides escorting Lyla home.
"To magic!" she cheers, holding her cup up. I don't want to, but I can't fight it. I need Abby and her whimsy in my life, so I tap my Solo cup against hers.
Mid sip, she gasps and squeezes my forearm, her eyes focused in on the porch at the Newman's farm. On Jake Lexington. He's sitting with my brother on the front porch, and even in the distance he makes those butterflies appear. I've had a crush on him since forever. I've tried to get over this, because 1. Abby also likes him. 2. My brother would lose his mind if I even entertained the thought of a relationship with Jake, his best friend. And 3. I know it will never happen.
But I can't get over it.
With everything that's gone on the last few months, I always expect it to be different. I want to be able to see him and not have this urge for him to touch me or say my name or smile. I guess you can't turn off crushes the way you can light switches.
"My goal tonight is to get Jake to dance with me." Abby's eyes are super focused on him, like a lion stalking down prey.
I push down the butterflies. "Jake doesn't really dance, Abs."
Plus, Abby and Jake had this moment this summer at the cabin where she thought something was actually going to happen. It didn't. I overheard him talking to my brother afterward, saying it would never happen with her, but I didn't have the heart to be the one to break her spirit. I also still feel guilty that I am relieved by that.
Abby shrugs. "I can try anyway," she says as she pulls out her phone and looks herself over. She smiles, grabs me, and snaps a selfie of us. "I'm going to make my move."
"I'm going over there," I say, nodding toward Georgia Ann, Beau, and some of the other Belles. I can't watch this.
With that, Abby starts on her way toward the porch and the boy of our dreams. Over her shoulder she yells back, "Don't forget, Hals: tonight will be magical."
A few hours later, Jake is very drunk, standing a little too close to the fire. He tilts the bottle to his lips, eyes straight ahead into the flames. I know things are rough for him, with Jamie, but I wish he'd talk to us. Chris told me he never talks about it. All these months, and even he doesn't really know what happened that night.
Jake must feel me staring, or so I like to imagine, because he looks at me. Something flashes across his face. He opens his mouth like he's going to say something to me. I can feel my heart racing. How can he make me feel this by just opening his mouth?
"Howell, beer's gone!" he shouts.
I exhale when he turns away. Obviously I'm only asking for trouble. Jake will never see me the way I want him to see me. I move over toward my brother, who I'm seeing for the first time tonight, and he raises an eyebrow in my direction as if to ask me what's wrong. It's annoying sometimes to feel like he knows me enough to look at me and see I'm bothered. Weird as it is, there's also a lot of comfort in that. I don't have to try with him, or worry about what he will think, or if he will be there when I need him. We tell each other like it is when we need to, and no one has his back more than me, and vice versa. We shared a womb. He knows me better than I know myself, even when it's annoying.
Jake starts howling into the air.
"You should take it easy, man," my brother says.
"I'm good, man. Beer me," Jake says.
Chris sighs. "You're going hard tonight."
"I'll get it myself," Jake says, but changes his mind two wobbly steps later.
I move over and sit beside Reyes. He is reading on his phone. "What are you looking at?"
His eyes widen. "A new fan fiction."
That's all he says to me, then he goes back to his story. Okay then.
"This party is lame," Shelby Kramer says loud enough for everyone to hear her. For whatever reason, she stands here with her hands crossed over her chest, and her best friend mimics her. Besides Shelby's legacy status as a Belle, I don't think she even likes any of us.
"You can always leave," Jake yells across the way to her. She flips him off. He flips her off.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Crush Collision"
Copyright © 2019 Danielle Ellison.
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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