Authors: Anna Katmore
A grover beach team book
This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, businesses, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Edited by Annie Cosby,
All Rights Reserved
All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Table of contents
To Silje Victoria
For being the best beta reader
one can find on this planet!
And because she loves Chris as much as I do. ;-)
I BANGED MY head against Ryan Hunter’s shoulder. “Kill me now!”
“Aw, why so tragic, booklover?” Hunter wrapped an arm around me and dragged me through the gate to the soccer field behind our high school. “It’s only for ten weeks. Grab a nice tearjerker, drool over Edward Twilight, and time will fly by.”
“His name is Edward Cullen, not Edward Twilight.” I rolled my eyes. “And I read that one years ago.”
“Right. Whatever.” My team captain, with the teddy bear-brown eyes and roguish half-smile that made girls faint in droves when he walked past, patted my back. “I’m sure you’ll find another great book to keep yourself busy until you can play soccer with us again.”
I cast him a sharp sideways look. “Do you honestly want to know how many books I’ll have to read in that time to keep me sane?”
Ryan grimaced, running a hand through his chaotic, black hair. “Um, no.”
“Five hundred and seven—and then some.”
! “I hate Doctor Trooper. How could he do this to me?”
A laugh escaped Ryan. It was typical for him to sound so chilled out. Nothing fazed him, no matter how huge the problem. “Come on, Miller. It’s really not the end of the world.”
“You only say that because
don’t have to sit over there!” I pointed a thumb over my shoulder at the bench on the sidelines. But at the sight of Ryan’s helpless look and shrug, I forced down my frustration. It wasn’t his fault my leg was out of order for the winter season. That was courtesy of a girl player from the Riverfalls Rabid Wolves. She’d nearly kicked my kneecap into outer space during a recent match. Boy, that had hurt. I’d wanted to bawl like a baby. Except, there’d been too many guys around to really do that.
Ryan released me, stooped down, and pulled his left sock higher to cover his shin guard. While he retied the laces of his cleats, he angled his head to look up at me and squinted against the sun of this late November afternoon. “Will you stay and watch practice? Lisa’s supposed to show up later.”
I grinned. “That was my plan.” His girlfriend, Lisa Matthews, was one of my best friends, and we’d talked on the phone before I came down here.
“Good.” Ryan jogged over to Tony Mitchell, Alex Winter, and Nick Frederickson—all members of the Grover Beach Bay Sharks. I wiggled my fingers at them when they glanced my way, before I headed for the single bench in front of the bleachers on the sideline. I
bring a book today, and it was
, but I also wanted to watch my friends practice.
The coming ten weeks were bound to be pure torture. Since last summer, soccer had become a solid part of my life. Not that I was any good at it, but I loved the team sport. It was also nice how I had transformed from a lazy bookworm into an athlete who could actually run three miles without dying of breathlessness during Hunter’s excessive training schedule.
Speaking of physique, there was one effect better than all the rest, even if it had nothing to do with soccer training at all. Straightening my light blue shirt, which was a tight fit, I looked down at my front and smiled, because I’d finally grown the curves nature had denied me when puberty struck.
No girl should get her driver’s license before her boobs. That’s just cruel.
As I reached the bench, I looked up again and—what the hell—I stopped dead.
A guy was sprawled out along the seat, his head pillowed by his folded arms, gazing at the sky. Or maybe he was asleep. I couldn’t tell, because he’d pulled the rim of his ball cap low on his forehead. Headphones were plugged in his ears. The sound of Volbeat drifted to me, even from five feet away. Hmm, he had good taste in music. In clothes…not so much. Dark brown sneakers, brown shorts, and a yellow tee gave him a crazy
I didn’t know who he was, or why he was occupying my seat, but since I was still part of this soccer team and he was
, it was only fair to shoo him away. There were enough empty seats on the bleachers where he could continue his Monday afternoon nap.
I walked up to his side, slapped his knee with the back of my hand, and waited until he pulled the earphones out; well, one of them at least. “Hey, Charlie Brown, this is my seat.” The sharpness in my voice left no room for discussion, or so I hoped. I wasn’t your typical commanding person. That was my friend Simone’s job. She had it down to the last bat of her eyelashes. Today, however, I thought I’d pulled off a pretty good imitation.
The guy angled his head toward me, took off his cap, and raked a relaxed hand through his short hair, which was the color of sunlight hitting glass. He blinked his cornflower-blue eyes a couple of times. A slow smile crawled across his face. “Sorry, I didn’t know the bench had your name on it.”
“Well, if you look again, you’ll find it carved into one of the boards somewhere.” Simone Simpkins and I had eternalized ourselves here sometime last summer. We’d tried to talk Lisa into it, too, but she’d only rolled her eyes. She’d always been the most reasonable of us.
The guy’s smile morphed into an intrigued expression, as one of his eyebrows wandered upward. “Is that so?” he drawled.
I dumped my backpack next to my gray vintage boots and crossed my arms over my chest. Charlie Brown finally worked up the decency to sit up. The longer I looked at his face, the more familiar it seemed. I might have seen this guy at one of Hunter’s parties but, for the love of Christ, I couldn’t fish his name from my mind.
However, he didn’t leave, which grated on my nerves. He pulled out the second earpiece, scooted down to one end of the bench and, without words, offered me a spot beside him. With a snort, I accepted the offer.
Nine days after the accident, I didn’t need crutches any longer, was able to drive a car, and could climb stairs again without awkwardly dragging my injured leg behind me. But sitting down on something as low as this bench caused me trouble. My knee still hurt a little when I bent it more than a full right angle. So, as usual, I kept my right leg as straight as possible and slumped in slow motion down onto my butt.
copy had put his cap back on and the cable of his headphones around his neck. Right now he was ogling me in a peculiar way—I could see that from the corner of my eye.
“You’re Susan Miller, aren’t you?” he said over the noise still coming from his headphones.
My gaze got stuck on the red shark grinning from the ten-by-ten-foot poster on the other side of the soccer field, and I nearly choked on air. Slowly, I turned to him. “And just which little bird told you that?”
“Not a bird. Your knee did.” He rubbed his neck and lowered his glance in a way that made me think of how guilty I’d felt when Mom told me I’d fried my ant farm at age six, because I’d let them take a sun bath on my windowsill on a dramatically hot August day. “And unless I’m totally mistaken,” he continued, managing to look sweet even as he grimaced, “I’m your replacement.”
?” I jumped up in horror—not very gracefully—and planted my fists on my hips. “Hunter!” I yelled across the field and turned back to Charlie Brown, blowing air out of my nose like a bull in an arena. “Listen, just because I’m temporarily out of order doesn’t mean you can come and take my place.
The guy rose to his feet, placating me with his palms up, but I didn’t give him a chance to speak. “I’ll be back to my awesome normal in just a few weeks and able to play soccer again! No need for anyone to jump in for me. HUNTER! Get your sorry ass over here,
Charlie Brown bit his bottom lip. “Ryan said the news probably wouldn’t go down well with you. I’m surprised he hasn’t told you yet.”
Oh no, he hadn’t told me. What the hell? I was unable to play for a while, not forever. No need to run off and find the next best guy to replace me—no matter how cute that guy looked, by the way. “What’s going on here?” I huffed as my team captain finally drew up beside me.
Hunter sucked in a breath between his teeth, his expression sheepish. “Er…did I forget to tell you that I found someone to play with us for the time that you can’t?”
“Obviously so!” At my murderous gaze, Hunter took a step back. Wow, I didn’t know I was that good. I could have let a sly grin slip right now, but I didn’t.
“Calm down, Susie,” the guy in brown shorts said in a soothing sort of way and reached out to touch my arm. He cast Ryan a look befitting a Boy Scout and a subtle nod. Gah, did he really think I hadn’t seen that? The next second, Ryan took off, back to the others.
“No one calls me Susie,” I growled at Charlie Brown, pulling my arm away.
“Okay. It won’t happen again. Just don’t bite my head off.” He winked at me. To my total surprise, it cut me silent.
With my head slightly cocked, I gazed up those few inches he had on my five-foot-eight frame. He smiled all the way to his ears. Because of how sweet he looked when he did so, I was willing to give him ten seconds to say whatever was on his mind.
“I’m not going to take your place. I used to play soccer a few years ago. When Ryan asked me to play for a while, I said yes to do him a favor.” Carefully, as if not to be too forward, he placed his hands on my shoulders, moved me back to the bench, and helped me sit down. He squatted in front of me, elbows resting on his thighs, so we were eye to eye. “I promise to be gone the day your leg is fine and you can take over again. How’s that?”
He smelled like lemongrass and Coke popsicles. Awesome.
I drew in another deep breath and finally let my frustration sail off on the ship of sighs. With my index finger, I shoved my glasses farther up my nose. I normally didn’t bring them to soccer practice, but since I wasn’t going to play only read today, I’d had no choice. “I guess that’s okay.”
“Great.” He clapped his hands once, stood up, and placed his white iPod on the bench next to me. “Take care of this for me?”
I nodded and noticed that he hadn’t turned the music off.
He headed away, but after only a few steps, he twisted to me again, walking backward. “I’m Ethan, by the way.” He shrugged and grinned. “Just in case you wanted to know.” Ethan grabbed his cap, turned it backwards, and ran off toward the rest of my team.
I sat rigid with my gaze transfixed on his back. My hands, which were usually cold as ice bags, were now sweaty. Why the heck were they
? I wiped them on my white jeans and ground my molars together. Replacement player, my ass. Hunter would have to answer a few questions for me after practice.
More aggressively than I’d actually intended to, I pulled the zipper of my backpack open and fished for the book I’d brought today. It was
The Fiery Cross
novel. Over the past couple of weeks I’d become addicted to that series, but this was already book five of eight, and the series would hardly keep me busy much longer than a few more days. Yeah, that’s the problem when you devour books like your friends munch popcorn—you run out of good stuff pretty quickly.
In the distance, I heard Hunter introduce Ethan as their temporary teammate. Most of the guys and girls seemed to know him already, which wasn’t a big surprise. Everyone who knew Hunter also knew his friends. Well, apart from me, obviously.
I didn’t pay attention and buried my nose in the book, but with the music still coming from Ethan’s iPod, I just couldn’t concentrate. Maybe he’d left it on for a purpose? Most likely to continue getting on my nerves. For a moment, I considered switching the music off or at least turning the volume down, but when I reached for it, my hand developed a will of its own and plugged one of the headphones into my ear. Fine, I was curious. Before, there’d been a song from one of my favorite bands playing, so maybe there were more of my favorites.
Right now, Aerosmith was playing, which actually wasn’t bad. I picked up the white iPod and skipped a few songs forward, then searched through the library. Apart from that one song, there was no more Volbeat, which was a shame, but the other music was good enough to keep listening. Some metal, some rock, and even Ed Sheeran—that was totally my thing.
Turning down the volume, I put the second headphone into my ear and continued reading where I’d stopped before. Twenty pages flew by to the voices of Kings of Leon. Only once or twice did I sneak a peek at the soccer field to see how Charlie Brown was shaping up—and holy moly, he was
He’d just headed the ball past Frederickson—who’d gotten an award for best junior goalkeeper in North California—for an amazing goal. He cut a fine figure when he ran, too. Not like Kyle Foster, who thundered across the lawn like an engine on steroids, or like Alex Winter, who seemed too lazy today to even tie his shoelaces. In fact, Ethan was some serious competition for Hunter. He looked like he owned that field in a very natural, very comfortable way.
Sasha Torres high-fived him on his goal, and that was when Ethan looked my way.
Have you ever been caught gaping at someone, like really ogling in awe? You know how it makes your cheeks heat with embarrassment, right? Unfortunately, it wasn’t only my cheeks. Heat crawled all over my face, right up to my hairline, as Ethan called me out on my staring with a tight-lipped smirk.