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Good Girl Complex: Chapter 13

COOPER

“I’ve always wanted to do one of these,” Mac says, grabbing my arm and tugging me toward some spinning monstrosity a hundred feet in the air.

Is this chick serious? I roll my eyes at her. “If I wanted to get dizzy and choke on my own vomit, I could do that on the ground.”

She spins on me, eyes wide and shining in the multicolored lights. “You’re not chicken, are you, Hartley?”

“Never,” I say, because the inability to back down from a challenge is one of my personality defects.

“Then put your money where your mouth is, chicken man.”

“You’re gonna regret that.” I warn, gesturing for her to lead the way.

The annual boardwalk festival is a highlight of the fall season in Avalon Bay. It’s supposed to commemorate the founding of the town or something, but really, it’s become an excuse to throw a party. Local restaurants bring out their food trucks and vendor stands, bars sling signature cocktails from carts, and midway games and carnival rides cram the boardwalk.

Evan and I used to smoke a bowl with our friends, get smashed, and jump from one ride to the next to see who lost their lunch first. Last couple of years, though, I guess we’ve gotten tired of it.

For some reason, I feel compelled to be the one to introduce Mac to the festival.

The boardwalk is crowded. Carnival jingles compete with live bands playing at three stages spread out through Old Town. The aromas of corn dogs and cotton candy, funnel cakes and turkey legs, waft on the breeze. After the Wave Flinger and Moon Shot, we go down the fifty-foot Avalanche slide and tackle the Gravity Well. All the way, Mac is skipping around with a huge grin on her face. Not an ounce of trepidation. She’s an adventurer, this one. I dig it.

“What next?” she asks as we’re recovering from her latest ride selection. I wouldn’t call myself a wimp, but the daredevil beside me is definitely giving me a run for my money.

“Can we do something chill?” I grumble. “Like, give me five seconds to readjust to gravity.”

She grins. “Something chill? Gee, Grandpa, like what? Should we sit quietly on the Ferris wheel or board that slow little train that goes through the Tunnel of Love?”

“If you’re going into the Tunnel of Love with your grandpa, then you’ve got a whole new set of problems we need to talk about.”

She flips up her middle finger. “How about a cotton candy break, then?”

“Sure.” As we amble toward one of the concession stands, I speak in a conversational tone. “I got a BJ in that tunnel once, you know.”

Rather than look disgusted, her green eyes twinkle with delight. “Really? Tell me everything.”

We stand in line behind a woman who’s trying to wrangle three kids under the age of five. They’re like a litter of puppies, unable to stay still, bouncing around from the sugar highs they’re undoubtedly on.

I drag my tongue over my bottom lip and wink at Mac. “I’ll tell you later. In private.”

“Tease.”

We reach the counter, where I buy us two bags of cotton candy. Mac eagerly snatches one, peels off a huge, fluffy piece, and shoves the pink floss into her mouth.

“Soooo good.” Her words are garbled thanks to her completely full mouth.

X-rated images burn a hole in my brain as I watch her suck and slurp on the sugary treat.

My dick thickens against my zipper, making it difficult to concentrate on what she’s babbling about.

“Did you know that cotton candy was invented by a dentist?”

I blink back to reality. “Seriously? Talk about a proactive way to ensure a customer base.”

“Genius,” she agrees.

I reach into the bag and pinch off a piece. The cotton candy melts the moment it touches my tongue, the sweet flavor injecting a rush of nostalgia directly into my blood. I feel like a little kid again. Back when my parents were both around and still somewhat in love. They’d bring me and Evan to the boardwalk, stuff us full of junk food and sugar, and let us go wild. We’d drive home laughing and giddy and feeling like a real family.

By the time Evan and I turned six, their relationship turned combative. Dad started drinking more. Mom looked for attention and validation from other men. They separated, and Evan and I became afterthoughts to booze and sex.

“No,” Mac orders.

I blink again. “No what?”

“You have that look on your face. You’re brooding.”

“I’m not brooding.”

“Yes, you are. Your face is totally saying, I’m lost in my broody thoughts because I’m SUCH a tortured bad boy.” She gives me a stern look. “Snap out of it, Hartley. We were discussing some pretty insightful stuff.”

“We were talking about cotton candy.” My tone is dry.

“So? That can be insightful.” She raises one eyebrow, smug. “Did you know scientists are trying to use cotton candy to create artificial blood vessels?”

“That sounds like pure and total horseshit,” I say cheerfully.

“It’s not. I read about it once,” she insists. “Cotton candy fibers are, like, super small. They’re the same size as our blood vessels. I don’t remember the exact process, but the basic premise is—cotton candy equals medical breakthrough.”

“Junk science.”

“I swear.”

“Cite your sources.”

“Some magazine.”

“Ohhhh, of course! Some magazine—the most reputable of publications.”

She glares at me. “Why can’t you just accept I’m right?”

“Why can’t you accept you might be wrong?”

“I’m never wrong.”

I start laughing, which causes her to glower harder at me. “I’m convinced you argue just for the sake of arguing,” I inform her.

“I do not.”

I laugh harder. “See! You’re so damn stubborn.”

“Lies!”

A tall blonde holding hands with a small boy frowns as she passes by. Mac’s exclamation has brought a flicker of concern to the woman’s eyes.

“It’s okay,” Mac assures her. “We’re best friends.”

“We’re bitter rivals,” I correct. “She’s always yelling at me, ma’am. Please, help me out of this toxic relationship.”

The woman gives us one of those you’re incorrigible looks anyone over forty sports when they’re dealing with immature children. Joke’s on her. We’re both in our twenties.

We continue down the boardwalk, stopping to watch some sucker boyfriend hurl darts at a wall of balloons to try to win a massive stuffed animal for his girl. Forty bucks later, he still hasn’t secured the prized panda, and the girlfriend is now spending more time checking me out than cheering him on.

“Can you believe that chick?” Mac says when we walk off. “I swear she was picturing you naked in her mind while her poor boyfriend was bleeding money for her.”

“Jealous?” I flash a grin.

“Nope. Just impressed. You’re hot stuff, Hartley. I don’t think we’ve passed a single girl tonight who hasn’t stopped to drool over you.”

“What can I say? Women like me.” I’m not trying to be arrogant. It’s just a fact. My twin and I are good-looking, and good-looking guys are popular with the ladies. Anyone who says otherwise is damn naïve. When it comes to our basic animal instincts, who we’re sexually drawn to, appearance matters.

“Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” Mac asks.

“Don’t want one.”

“Ah, I get it. Commitmentphobe.”

“Nah.” I shrug. “I’m just not in the market for one right now. My priorities are elsewhere.”

“Interesting.”

Our eyes lock for a fleeting, heated moment. I’m seconds away from reexamining the aforementioned priorities when Mac visibly swallows and changes the subject.

“Alright, time for another ride,” she announces. “We’ve been dilly-dallying long enough.”

“Please go easy on me,” I beg.

She simply snorts in response and dashes off in search of our next death-defying adventure.

I stare after her in amusement. And a touch of bewilderment. This girl is something else. Not at all like the other bored clones at Garnet. She doesn’t care how she looks—hair wild, makeup sweating off. She’s spontaneous and free, which makes it that much more confounding why she stays with that jackass Kincaid. What the hell does that guy have that makes him so damn great?

“Explain something to me,” I say, as we approach some enormous bungee thing that slingshots a small, two-person basket of screaming victims nearly two hundred feet in the air.

“If this is you trying to stall, it won’t work.” She marches right up to the ride attendant and hands him our tickets.

“Your boyfriend,” I start, stepping around her to get into the basket first.

The attendant straps me in and starts his spiel that amounts to: Keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle, and if this kills you, we’re not liable.

For the first time tonight, Mac looks nervous as she slides in beside me. “What about him?”

I choose my words carefully. “I mean, I hear things. None of them good. And for a girl who insists she doesn’t want to be her mommy and daddy’s little princess protégé, I’m wondering why you would do the expected thing and settle for another Garnet clone.”

The thick bundle of cords, which will in a moment launch us into the night sky, rises up the ride’s arms that form an obtuse angle above us.

“That’s not really any of your business.” Her expression turns flat, her tone adversarial. I’m touching a nerve.

“Come on, if you two have crazy-good sex or something, just say so. That I understand. Get yours, you know? I’d respect it.”

She looks straight ahead, as if there’s any chance of her ignoring me in this four-foot-wide tin can. “I’m not having this conversation with you.”

“I know it’s not for the money,” I say. “And the fact that you never talk about him tells me your heart’s not in it.”

“You’re way off.” Mac snaps her gaze to me, lifting a defiant chin. There’s all sorts of fight in her now. “Honestly, I’m embarrassed for you.”

“Oh, is that right, princess?” I can’t help myself. Getting a rise out of her kind of makes me horny. “When’s the last time you touched yourself thinking about him?”

“Fuck off.” Her cheeks turn red. I can see her biting the inside of her cheek as she rolls her eyes.

“Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me he gets you hot and bothered just walking into a room.”

Her pulse is visibly thrumming in her neck. Mac adjusts in her seat, crossing her ankles. As her gaze flicks to mine, she licks her lips and I know she’s thinking the same thing I am.

“There are more important things than chemistry,” she says, and I hear the uncertainty in her voice.

“I bet you’ve been telling yourself that for a long time.” I slant my head. “But maybe you’re not as sure of that as you used to be.”

“And why’s that?”

“Okay,” the attendant announces, “hang on. Counting down from ten. Ready?”

Oh, fuck it.

“I’m calling in your marker,” I tell her.

“My what?”

Eight. Seven.” The attendant counts down.

“The bet we made, remember? The night we met? Well, I won, and I know what I want as repayment.”

Six. Five.

“Cooper…”

Four. Three.”

“Kiss me,” I say roughly. “Or tell me you still don’t want me.”

“Two.

“What’s it gonna be, Mackenzie?”

One.”


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