Read Her Perfect Game Online

Authors: Shannyn Schroeder

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #New Adult, #Contemporary, #Short Stories (Single Author)

Her Perfect Game

BOOK: Her Perfect Game
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By Shannyn Schroeder
 
 
The O'Learys
 
More Than This
A Good Time
Something to Prove
Catch Your Breath
 
 
Hot & Nerdy
 
Her Best Shot
Her Perfect Game
Her Winning Formula
Hot & Nerdy her perfect Game
SHANNYN SCHROEDER
eKensington
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Chapter 1
C
harlie Castle stared at the ringing phone, debating whether she should answer, but Layla had been her best friend since high school and she would think something was wrong if Charlie didn't answer. “Hey, babe, what's up?”
“Hi, Charlie,” two separate voices answered.
“Felicity?”
“Yep. Layla has us all on the line. Must be something big.”
Layla continued, “I had my interview for the summer internship today and you're
not
going to believe this.”
“And?” Felicity asked.
Charlie heard the excitement in her friend's voice. You'd think it was Felicity's good news. “And, what?” Charlie added. “We know you got the internship. They love you.”
“They offered me a job instead of the internship.”
“Holy shit,” Charlie said. Felicity squealed, and Charlie held the phone away from her head.
She couldn't believe it. A job with the NSA meant that Layla wouldn't be coming home after graduation. The National Security Agency was based in Maryland. They'd lost Layla to the internship program for a chunk of every summer since they'd started college.
“I can't wait to tell you guys all about it. You're both going to be home for spring break next week, right?”
“I never left, remember?” Charlie struggled to keep the jealousy out of her voice. She was truly happy for her friends. If she had taken school more seriously, she probably could've kept her scholarship like Layla had. Felicity's parents could afford to send her anywhere.
Felicity interrupted her thoughts. “Well, that was the plan, but don't you think in light of your excellent news we should celebrate? We should all meet up for a proper spring break. Let's go somewhere touristy and get drunk and have fun.”
Charlie couldn't believe her ears. “Okay, who are you? Hey, Layla, are you sure you dialed right?”
“Yes, she dialed right, smart-ass. Every year we talk about going somewhere to have fun. This is our last spring break. After this, we're all out in the real world. We might be scattered all over the country for our jobs. I heard a girl talking about going to South Padre Island in Texas. Let's go.”
Charlie listened to her friends making plans. Layla was going to start driving now. Charlie couldn't go. Not only could she not afford something like that, but if she went, they would take one look at her and know something was wrong.
“What about you, Charlie?”
“I have a con planned for next weekend.” She'd used every extra penny she had to pay for the registration.
“So come for part of the week,” Layla offered.
Charlie tried to figure out what to say. She'd planned on telling her friends in her own time, like after they had graduated.
“Charlotte, we hear you breathing. What's going on?” Layla was persistent.
“I think Ethan has something special planned for this week.” She knew her friends had never cared for Ethan. What was one more lie? If she'd told them Ethan had dumped her, they would demand she come to spring break. If she went on the trip, they would find out that she'd dropped out of school.
Plus, she needed to go to the convention. The hackfest called to her. The prize money would set her straight for months. It would also be her ticket to Def Con in the summer. Adding the hackfest win to her résumé might even help her get a real job. Anything to get her life moving again.
“It won't be the same without you.” Layla sounded concerned.
“I know, but you guys go ahead and have a great time. I expect you to have my share of the fun too. Especially Felicity. Get that girl laid.”
“Hey,
that girl
is listening. What makes you think I need to get laid?”
Charlie snickered. Subject changed. “When was the last time you had an orgasm with someone other than yourself?”
“Some of us have discriminating taste.”
“Yeah, and some of us are too shy to speak to anyone with a dick.”
“Now, girls . . .” Layla, always the peacemaker.
Felicity continued to talk about booking a room, but Charlie tuned it out. Her brain had already moved on to the finishing touches needed on her costume for the convention, and her fingers itched to log on to the convention site to find the day's scavenger hunt clue. When her friends said good-bye, she mumbled a response and hung up.
Clue first, then costume. Although the cosplay part of the convention was fun and fed her playful side, she needed to ensure she'd be part of the hacking competition. It was invitation only, and in order to score the invite, she needed to complete the scavenger hunt. A new clue was posted daily, supposedly at random times. She, however, created an algorithm to figure out when the clue would post.
She pulled out her laptop, the secondary one only used for hacking. The computer itself held nothing personal to trace it back to her. Hacking wasn't something she did to cause trouble, and in truth, except for her first foray into hacking when she was a freshman, everything she did now was just to keep her skills up. She hadn't considered it a career move until she stumbled on the scavenger hunt. The hackfest was being sponsored by a group of companies from software creators to security experts. If she could prove herself there, maybe a degree wouldn't be so important.
She logged on to the convention Web site and clicked through to the events page to find the clue. Nothing. She scanned the page twice and then rubbed her eyes. Her algorithm hadn't been wrong yet. She hit the refresh button and then she saw it: a small numerical thirteen on the lower right corner of the page. It hadn't been there the first two times she looked.
Thirteen? What kind of clue was that? She pulled out her notebook that contained the puzzles she'd already solved. The convention started in five days. The organizers must've decided to up the difficulty. Scanning through the other pages of the site, she found each had a number. Now all she had to do was figure out what they meant.
Charlie walked through her apartment keenly aware of the quiet. Her roommate Amy usually left the TV or the radio playing. Sometimes both. She glanced to the kitchen counter and saw two wineglasses sitting near the sink.
Oh goody, Amy had her boyfriend over. Again. She was trying not to be a bitch about it, but the man was in their place more than Charlie was, and he wasn't paying for anything. What made it worse was that he'd eat her food. Like her favorite yogurt and then not even have the decency to offer a fake apology.
She yanked her hair free from her ponytail and kicked her shoes off, nudging them close to the door so she could easily find them in the morning. Work had beaten her down tonight. As much as she hated the morning shift at a coffee shop, she could at least understand why people might be rude to her. She tended to land on the far side of testy without her morning dose of caffeine. But at seven in the evening?
Tonight had been one of those nights where she could do nothing right. Even if she thought it had been right, the customers didn't agree. All she wanted was a hot shower and some time to play
The Order of Resskaar
. As she grabbed her pajamas from her room, she heard quiet moans coming from the other side of the wall she shared with Amy.
Good thing she owned an excellent pair of headphones. Her dry spell would make hearing them go at it difficult at best. She didn't like being jealous, but it had been way too long since she'd experienced a screaming orgasm, regardless of what her good friends believed.
Part of that was because Ethan had never hit the mark that some men did. He hadn't been a bad lover, exactly, just not as good as others. She sighed and started the hot water. She needed to flush men from her mind. Only two months remained in the school year and then she wouldn't be able to hold her secret anymore.
Telling everyone—her mom, Layla, Felicity—that she had dropped out of school would sting a whole lot less if she at least had a plan figured out. Having time to implement that plan would be even better.
After her shower, Charlie went back to her room and tuned out the sounds of the squeaky bed banging against the wall. She booted up her computer and put on her headphones. She hoped Win was online because she could really use a friend tonight. He'd take her mind off her lame job and whiny customers. And if it was a quiet night, maybe they could sneak away for some private time.
So much for flushing men from her mind.
But Win didn't count. He was a virtual man. Well, she was pretty sure he was a man in the real world too, but she only knew him virtually, as a dwarven mage. And it would stay that way unless she could finally convince him to join her at the convention. They would have so much fun together. Even outside the bedroom.
As the home screen welcomed her, Charlie began to relax. She turned the volume up on her stereo to drown out Amy's noise. She preferred to listen to music while she played and just read the conversation on screen. In her head, the characters had natural voices, and the computerized version never sounded real enough, so she ignored them.
She shot a message to Win.
You around?
No one answered, so she wandered through the virtual forest looking for the rest of the members of her guild. At least two others were logged on. As she walked, she noticed that her friends had picked up some treasures while she'd been at work. Looking at the loot, she saw things that they had all agreed were unnecessary for their mission. She sighed. This happened every now and then, especially when new members joined the guild.
She didn't try to restrict membership, but she had guidelines for what she expected the group to be. They were called The Guardians after all. Stealing from people and taking things the guild didn't need went against everything they stood for. She searched for the tree that would have the items tied to the boughs out of sight. When she found the bag, she took it with her to the village. Starting at the orphanage, she handed out items that others would use to barter to stay alive.
That's when she ran into Kraven. He was the newest member of the guild, and she suspected he was the one responsible for the bag.
 
What are you doing? That's my stuff.
 
I'm spreading the wealth. That's what we do.
 
Do you know how many people I had to go up against to earn that?
 
I have no idea. What were you planning to do with it?
 
Save it to exchange for things we'll need. There are only a few more missions until we reach the final one. We'll need supplies to help Resskaar.
 
I'm in no hurry to reach the final battle. I told you that when you asked to join my guild.
 
Your guild? I assumed it was Win's guild. He was the one who invited me.
 
Win invited you after talking to me.
 
Figures. I'm out.
 
He snatched the bag from her hand and took off with whatever of his loot remained. He sneered at a few of the villagers, but he knew better than to take what she had just given them.
Confronting Kraven left a bad taste in her mouth. She'd come to the game tonight to find refuge, not a fight. Now, however, a fight might make her feel better. She checked the mission status. The others from her guild had logged off, except Kraven. She was on her own. She marched to the edge of town and took off in a run to find the band of marauders she knew had taken up camp.
The thieves stormed every village they came across until they left nothing but a shell behind. She knew she wouldn't be able to take them all on, but her health was near one hundred percent, so she could handle a couple before retreating.
In the distance, she saw the small campfire. As she neared the edge of the camp, she crept along the tree line. If she could find the right vantage point, she could take out half the group without breaking a sweat. Spotting a low-hanging branch, she jumped and climbed. When she found a good bough, one with enough coverage to hide her, but still allow a clean shot with her arrow, she settled in. As she surveyed the group below her, a ping told her one of her guild had just logged on.
Win.
It was silly that her heartbeat quickened at the sight of his name, but every time she saw it, it was like she knew she'd be able to see a good friend.
 
Hey, gorgeous, where are you? Not in our cave.
She typed back quickly.
In a tree about to cause some trouble.Want to join me?
BOOK: Her Perfect Game
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