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If You Dare: Chapter 12

Before

Violet

At the Sigma Chi party, I adjust my too-short skirt. Everything I’m wearing tonight belongs to Chloe. She went through my entire dresser and decided none of my clothes were suitable for my first frat party.

When she snaps a selfie of us, I hardly recognize myself. She curled my hair and covered my face in concealer, foundation, eyeshadow, liner, mascara, blush, and cherry lipstick. The crop top she threw at me plunges so low, my bra almost peeks through the top. When I complained that my bra was showing, she simply told me to take it off.

Though I feel like I’m wearing a costume, I’ve got a new sway to my hips, and even next to the radiant beauty that is Chloe, some of the guys check me out.

In the crowded living room, she digs her nails into my arm.

“Ow!” I try to shake her off, but there’s no getting rid of Chloe once she sinks her claws in you.

“I’m not normally into redheads,” she whispers, “but look at that guy. He is so cute.”

“I thought we were here for Luke.”

I am, but we’ve gotta find you a man too.”

My stomach twists at the thought of forcing myself to try to fall for a guy who isn’t Wes.

But it’s just a silly crush. Once I find some other guy, a nerd from the library like he suggested, I’ll get over him.

I follow where Chloe is blatantly pointing at a redhead, tall and reedy with thick glasses. “Oh, I know him. That’s Maxwell. He’s in my Intro to Fiction Writing class.

Chloe gasps. “A fellow writer? Oh my god, you have to go over and flirt with him.”

“What?” My body temperature spikes. “I’m not doing that.”

She pinches me. I’m starting to learn her love language is violence. “Why the hell not? He’s cute, and I bet you two have a ton in common.”

“Because I have to see him in class every week, and I don’t want things to be awkward between us.”

“I’m not telling you to date the guy. Just flirt with him. Get some practice in. I bet he’s the type of guy who would be flattered you even looked in his direction. Give him a compliment and he’ll be begging for your hand in marriage.” When I fold my arms and make it clear I’m not budging, Chloe adds, “I dare you.”

Shit. I dared her to flash a guy at a crowded hockey game and she didn’t even bat an eye. If she can do that, surely I can flirt with a cute classmate for five seconds.

Chloe and I grab drinks for the three of us as an icebreaker. When we reach him, she bursts out with a loud “Hi!” I shove a red plastic cup wordlessly into his hand.

His eyes widen, frightened. “Uh. Thanks.”

“Violet.” Chloe’s voice comes out artificially high. “What were you just saying about his hair?”

I’m going to kill her for this. “Oh, yeah. It’s . . . nice.”

Chloe manages to hide her cringe, but Maxwell slips into an easy smile. “Thanks. You’re in my fiction writing class, right?”

The tight knot in my chest starts to loosen. “Yeah, I am.”

“How did you do on the last assignment?”

Chloe squeezes my shoulder. “I’m going to get another drink!” she shouts over the pulse of the music and the cheers from the kitchen.

She leaves me with Maxwell, giggling and flirting with Luke in the kitchen as they play a drinking game. Maxwell and I talk about class, writing, and books for the next half hour. He’s cute, he’s nice, he’s easy to talk to. The ideal guy to have a crush on, to date, to take my first kiss. Logical, practical, rational.

Yet my heart is still full of irrational feelings for Wes. When I imagine myself leaning in to kiss Maxwell, all I see is Wes Novak’s face.

Just as Maxwell drapes an arm across the couch behind me and his gaze falls to my mouth, Chloe stumbles from the kitchen and bumps into my legs.

“Luke left.” Her bottom lip puffs out in a pout. “Now I’m b-bored.”

She avoids alcohol so she can stay in the best possible shape for figure skating, but she’s clearly drunk now.

“Sorry,” I tell Maxwell. “I need to get her home.”

Before she passes out and becomes dead weight. Secretly, I’m glad she interrupted before Maxwell could kiss me. I know I wouldn’t have stopped him, but I also don’t want to share that first with him.

I want that with someone else.

“No problem. See you in class.”

I manage to get Chloe outside and onto the porch before she drops to her butt and leans against the railing, eyes fluttering shut.

“No, not here, Chloe. Come on. We don’t have that much farther.”

She waves me off, and no matter how much I tug on her arm, she’s not budging.

I dig in her front pocket for her phone and convince her to open her eyes long enough to unlock it. Wes is in her emergency contacts.

If you end up in a bad situation, you call me.

Both of you.

The phone rings, and I hope he’s not drunk or passed out at a party too.

On the third ring, a low baritone hums in my ear. “What’s up?”

“Hey, um, this is Violet.”

“Violet.” His voice floods me with a warmth that makes my thighs clench.

“Chloe and I are at the Sigma Chi party, and she’s kind of passed out. Could you come help me get her back to the dorm?”

“I’ll be right there.” He hangs up without another word.

Chloe is drunkenly snoring by the time Wes shows up five minutes later. He shakes his head before scooping her up effortlessly.

An insane part of me wishes that I was the drunk friend and Chloe was the one who called Wes for help so I’d be the one in his arms right now.

When he fixes his gaze on me, he halts. I melt under his stare as he takes in every inch of me, from my curled hair to the low-cut top down to the thighs that are almost entirely exposed by the tiny piece of fabric that barely passes for a skirt.

No one’s ever looked at me like this before.

Wes clears his throat. “You ready?”

I manage a nod.

He tucks Chloe into the backseat of his car, and my heart nearly stops when he opens the passenger side door for me. A small gesture that shouldn’t make me swoon as much as it does. Maybe he’s checking out my ass as I slide in.

God, I hope so.

When he’s behind the wheel and we’re headed for Nohren Hall, Wes asks, “How many drinks did she have?”

I bite my lip. I should’ve been watching her more closely. “Honestly, I’m not sure. She was playing a drinking game, so I think she had a few.”

“I’m amazed she lasted a whole month before getting hammered.” His gaze flicks to me, making the nerves in my stomach stir. How my heart doesn’t explode every time he peers at me through those dark lashes is a mystery. “How much did you drink?”

“I only took a few sips. It tasted pretty gross to me,” I admit, knowing that makes me sound like the nerdy loser he already thinks I am.

He chuckles, and the sound is enough to spread a grin wide across my face. “Shitty beer tastes like piss. That’s why I don’t really give a shit that Coach doesn’t let us drink during hockey season.”

“So you don’t go to parties?”

“I go to some, but they’re not as fun when you’re one of the only sober people there.” He lifts an ebony eyebrow in my direction. “That how you felt tonight?”

Earlier, I left our dorm expecting to hate every second, to feel like a little kid playing dress-up, but having Chloe by my side made the night fun, exciting. Even when she was in another room, she helped me do something I never would’ve done otherwise. Adrenaline is still coursing through my veins. “I actually didn’t have a bad time. I hung out with Chloe and one of my classmates.”

“Who’s this classmate?” I don’t know Wes well enough yet to interpret his tone, but the question doesn’t sound wholly casual.

“I don’t think you know him.”

His shoulders stiffen, grip tightening on the steering wheel. Almost like he’s . . .

No. Not jealous.

“Did you hook up?” There’s a steely edge to his voice now.

“No,” I say quickly, wringing my hands. “It’s not like that with him.”

“Why not?” A careful question.

“He’s nice, but I only see him as a friend.”

Wes’s blue eyes land on me again, playful and roguish. “What do you see me as?”

My heartbeat stutters. There’s no way I’m imagining this now. He’s definitely flirting with me. But whether it means anything more to him or it’s just a fun way for him to pass the time, I can’t say for sure. “A mystery,” I admit.

My answer both surprises and amuses him. “Huh. No one’s ever called me mysterious before.” He pulls into a parking lot outside of Nohren Hall. “Guess we’ll just have to get to know each other better. Now that you’re living with my sister, after all. Gotta make sure you’re not a psycho killer.”

I giggle. “I’m definitely not. Although, I think you should’ve found that out before you gave me a ride.”

He grins, and I nearly combust. “That sounds like something a psycho killer would say.”

Wes carries Chloe up to our dorm, the scent of her vanilla perfume hitting us. The smell is comforting now. My home away from home.

He lays her on her side and covers her with the blanket, our room about sixty-five degrees because Chloe likes to curl up under four layers while she sleeps, even in the summer.

My heart squeezes at Wes’s tenderness toward his little sister as he tucks her in before I force myself to turn away and grab the trash can in the corner in case she pukes in the middle of the night.

I sit on the floor to watch Chloe. During the ride to campus, Mom warned me that if you’re drunk and puke while you’re lying on your back, you could drown in your own vomit. I have a feeling I won’t be sleeping tonight, terrified about what might happen to my new best friend if I shut my eyes. “I think she was trying to impress Luke,” I tell Wes. “I don’t know why she thinks she has to impress him, though. She’s great. He’d be lucky to date her.”

“No guy on this fucking campus is good enough for her.” Wes lowers himself to the floor beside me. He says it like a fact, and I smile. He’s right. “You have a boyfriend yet?”

Warmth creeps up to my cheeks. “No, I’ve never had a boyfriend,” I admit. I hate that every conversation we have further confirms how far below his league I am. “What about you?”

“I’ve had one girlfriend. That was plenty.” His jaw clenches, features stony now as he returns his focus to his sleeping sister.

The subject is clearly a touchy one. Likely off-limits entirely. But the adrenaline from tonight is making me braver. “What happened?”

He lifts a dark brow. “You really want to hear the whole story?” Like maybe no one else has ever been interested in hearing it before.

“I like stories.” I nod to the stack of books under my desk where I keep my collection.

A smile flickers across his face, lighting a candle in my chest. “All right, well, I’m not much of a storyteller, but I’ll give it my best shot.” He bends a knee and rests his arm on it. “I dated this girl all through high school. Head over heels, thought we’d get married.”

Stupidly, my heart sinks. I picture a model who was probably also an athlete and smart and funny and everything I’m not. He’s already been in love before. So in love, he thought he’d marry her someday. He’ll probably never love anyone like that again, let alone me. If his life turns out anything like the books I read, he’ll get his happily ever after with her. Not me.

“We graduated and went to different colleges. I didn’t even blink. We were rock-solid. Plus, we were only two hours apart. We could visit each other every weekend. Talk every night. No big deal.” He shifts, growing more uncomfortable with the memories, but I’m relieved he keeps going, eager to learn as much about him as I can. “First semester, she starts acting differently. I go from waiting an hour between texts to not hearing from her until the next day. Stops returning my missed calls and then stops answering my calls altogether. Acts like I’m bothering her when I do manage to get a text back. She said I was smothering her. I figured it was the distance and we just needed to spend some time together again. How am I doing so far?”

I nod, hanging on to every word. “Good. I definitely want to hear what happens next.”

He manages a smile. “So I show up at her campus to surprise her. Get a couple of her friends to help me out. Her roommate lets me borrow her card to open the door, and when I walk in and flick on the light, my girlfriend’s riding some other guy in her bed.”

My hand flies to my mouth too late to cover the gasp.

Wes lets out a humorless laugh. “It was almost fucking funny, watching her eyes bug out of her head when she realized it was me. She yelled my name, and that motherfucker was still inside her when he said, ‘That your boyfriend?’”

“That’s awful,” I whisper. I can’t even imagine how he must’ve felt. How that kind of betrayal would shape you, change you. Now I know why Chloe told me her brother doesn’t date.

“I beat that motherfucker to a pulp. Made sure she wouldn’t get any use of his dick, tongue, or fingers for weeks.”

Knowing Wes is capable of that much violence sends a shock of fear down my spine. But there’s something else mixed with the fear.

Excitement.

That same excitement I felt when Wes sent his opponent tumbling to the ice during the hockey game.

My thighs clench, imagining that aggression directed at me. His hand around my throat, anger in his eyes while he fucks me into the mattress.

I shake the images away, ashamed. What the hell is wrong with me? I should want someone who treats me like a queen. Who’s gentle and kind. Not someone who’s jealous and possessive and beats the shit out of a guy just so I can’t fuck him again.

Wes is unhinged. But I’m more unhinged for liking that about him.

“How’d I do?” he asks. “Decent story?”

“I’m sorry that happened to you.”

He shrugs. “So why have you never had a boyfriend?”

“I thought that was obvious,” I say. Wes frowns, tilting his head and waiting for me to continue. “You said I’m a loser who should only date nerds from the library. I guess I just haven’t found the right one yet.”

“I never said you were a loser. You’re gorgeous and sweet and smart. You could date any guy.”

The compliments throw me off so completely, I can’t formulate a response. Wes Novak thinks I’m gorgeous?

But that doesn’t matter because he had his heart so thoroughly broken by his first love, he’s determined to never love again. That much is clear.

“So why did you say I should date a nerd from the library?” I ask.

“Wasn’t meant to be an insult. I figured you’d want to date a guy who’s like you. Reads books. Writes. A nice guy who will treat you right.”

I shrug. He’s not wrong, exactly. That is the exact type of man I’ve always fantasized about meeting and falling in love with. The type of man I write about in my stories.

“You can’t tell me no guy’s ever been into you.” A lopsided smirk that gets my heart fluttering. “I refuse to believe it.”

“I thought one boy liked me in ninth grade,” I admit. The memory makes me cringe, but it’s nothing worse than what Wes went through, so I keep going. “He was really nice, said all the right things. He even sat with me during lunch a few times. I usually sat by myself and read a book, so it was nice having someone to talk to for once, especially a cute guy. I even shared some of my stories with him.” I swallow and squeeze my eyes shut like I might block out the memories flashing through my mind, but they’re engraved in my brain. “I wrote a new story the night before that I was really proud of, so instead of waiting to see him in class, I went to meet him at his locker before homeroom. He and his friends had their backs to me, so they didn’t notice me standing right behind them. But I stopped when I overheard him reading one of my stories out loud to his friends. They were all laughing, even him. It’s stupid, but I spent an hour crying in the bathroom after that and never let anyone read anything I wrote again.”

My heart is pounding at simply reliving the memory. Even years later, I can hear the words from my story in Randall’s mocking voice. Words I poured my heart and soul into. Words I believed in.

He was the first person I trusted with them, and he crushed them into dust. I don’t know how I’ll ever let anyone read anything I’ve written again. How I’ll fulfill my dream of becoming an author if I’m terrified about how people may read my words and twist them into something ugly. How I’ll be able to bare my soul like that to anyone again.

“That kid was a dick,” Wes says simply. “Definitely the kind of asshole who’d fuck another guy’s girlfriend.”

I giggle, relieved he can make a joke about our old wounds. “Definitely.”

“But if you’re passionate about something, you should go for it. No matter what anybody else thinks,” he says, serious now. “Plenty of people think I’ll never make the NHL. That hasn’t stopped me from going after it. Don’t let that little shit stop you.”

I hide behind my curtain of hair so Wes doesn’t spot the shimmering tears. I’ve needed to hear those words for so long.

The thought of sharing my writing with anyone still gives me hives, but Wes is right. I shouldn’t let some freshman punk like Randall dictate my life. One person’s opinion doesn’t determine the worth of my words. I’m a good enough writer to secure a spot in Diamond’s prestigious writing program. I’m a good enough writer to at least give my dream a shot. I may not ever be a bestselling, full-time author with millions of fans and movie deals. But I at least need to try.

And even though Wes has never read a word I’ve written, his faith in me gives me the confidence to believe I can someday make my dream a reality.


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