Staying On Top (Whitman University) (5 page)

BOOK: Staying On Top (Whitman University)
11.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Do you mouth off often?”

“I can’t handle anyone who wants to make her feel like she’s not amazing.”

The sweet honesty in his voice shook something at my core. It was so much rarer than people believed to hear truth spill from someone’s lips without any kind of agenda or caveat behind it. The two of them were a legend on Whitman’s campus since they’d gotten together almost two years ago, and even for me—a huge cynic—it was hard not to be touched. 

It was almost painful to see it. To know it existed. Because it made me hope.

“Okay, well, thanks.” 

“No problem.” He winked. “Have fun. I’ve never heard any complaints.”

“I’m glad you said that. You being sweet throws my worldview off kilter, but you being gross makes total sense.”

“I’m part of your worldview?”

“Coming to Whitman? Sure. You’re a legend. Or you were.” He still kind of was, just for different reasons, but the last thing Quinn needed was a bigger ego.

“I’m good with that. Gotta have stories to tell the grandkids one day. And now, I have someone to imagine grandkids with. Double win.”

“Double win.”

I said good-bye and wandered back out to the parking lot, trying to steady my shaken foundation. Since I’d been old enough to understand how babies were made, I knew that I didn’t want one. The idea that I could ever be normal enough to fix myself, never mind not fuck up someone else, didn’t seem possible.

The idea that I could find someone I’d want to be yoked to for the rest of my life seemed even less likely. Or that anyone would want to be tied that way to me.

I wasn’t seeing my dad for Thanksgiving. Until our conversation today, I’d figured on staying at Whitman, maybe trying to get a jump on studying for finals or figuring out my schedule for next semester. Financial reports were due to Kappa Chi nationals before the end of the year, as well.

Now, it appeared I’d be traveling. 

When I got back to the Kappa house, I pulled up my computer to find out where Sam was at the moment—it didn’t qualify as stalking if his whereabouts were easily found on the Internet. It appeared the season had just ended for the year, so it was hard to say. The American team had finished third in the Davis Cup, due in no small part to Sam’s efforts, and he’d ended his year with his number two ranking firmly in place. If everything stayed the same next season, he had a legitimate shot at grabbing number one from Javier Trevino, the Spaniard who had held the spot for the past three years—who, also according to the Internet, was also Sam’s practice partner.

There was disturbingly little information and even less gossip about Sam Bradford, aside from the typical ladies’-man assumptions. I found nothing that told me where he lived in the off-season, where he liked to vacation, or who he’d supposedly been dating—the gossip sites did have archives under his name, mostly because he’d dated more than his fair share of hot models and/or actresses, but nothing current popped on a Google search.

His parents lived in Boca, at least officially, but they struck me as the kind of people who weren’t ashamed to ride their son’s financial coattails. Living this kind of life all of these years had given me several gifts, but none came in handier than my ability to read people with a pretty high reliability. I was almost never wrong. Sam’s parents were greedy assholes. I’d bet my hair on it, and I had a shameless, narcissistic love for my hair.

Stalking wasn’t getting my anywhere, and the sorority meeting started in fewer than ten minutes. I took a deep breath, grabbed my phone, and scrolled through my contacts. There was nothing under Sam or Bradford, and I rolled my eyes, thinking I should have known better. Now I had to guess where Quinn had stored his friend’s number.

An entry for Monster Dick jumped out at me. I was sure I’d never added that one, though I did tend to give nicknames to the boys I met at the bars, or even ones I dated. Flynn had been Pretty Boy in my phone the entire two or three months we’d been together.

I shook my head and typed out a message—short and sweet, and following nothing but instinct. 


Hey, this is Blair Paddington, Quinn’s friend from Whitman. I’m not sure if you remember me from St. Moritz, but I was thinking about you and thought I’d say hi. Hit me back if you have time to chat for a few.


I typed and deleted an exclamation point a few times, then typed and deleted a smiley face, then did the same with an XO before dropping the phone with a groan. It was better to leave it, since I’d been so insistent on not being interested. Especially since he’d just been taken for millions of dollars, Sam would be wary. Changing my behavior too drastically could work against me—even texting him could be too much, but I didn’t have much of a choice.

In the end, I texted the private investigator we had on retainer instead. He was sleazy as fuck, but he could tell me where Sam would be on Sunday. It would be better that way—showing up out of the blue. With the story I’d decided to use, I’d still look like a stalker but it would work.

Audra pushed the door open a minute later and slung her backpack onto the thin carpet. Her cheeks were pink and her eyes sparkled like emeralds. “Hey. What are you up to?”

“Nothing. Just getting ready for the meeting.”

“I know, I’ll hurry.” She kicked off her flip-flops and jeans, then stripped her tight shirt over her abdomen. “What’s going on tonight? Is it going to be a long one?”

I shook my head, applying some lip gloss and tugging a rust-colored cardigan over my black-and-white dress. Most of the girls hated formal meetings, but they weren’t so bad. Dressing up had always been fun to me—in fact, it had been one of the things Dad used to hook me into the con life as a little girl. “No. Reminding everyone that their dues and incidentals need to be paid before they go home for Christmas, and I think solidifying a location for spring formal. You have plans with Logan later?”

“No. They have a meeting, too, and he has a big exam tomorrow. I was hoping we could hang out, actually.”

I smiled, still surprised that her friendship inspired that reaction in me. Friends had never been encouraged. They asked too many questions. “That would be awesome. I’m ready for my marketing exam tomorrow, and I’m leaving town Saturday, so it’ll be nice.”

“Where are you going?” She asked, her voice muffled by a navy blue ruffled sheath.

It brought out the green in her eyes, reminding me how pretty the Scottish girl was, and making me think again how too good she was for Logan Shapiro.

“I’m meeting my dad overseas for a few days.”

“You aren’t going to miss the rest of the semester again, are you?” Concern lit her expression as she swept her lashes with mascara.

“I don’t think so. Last year was a family emergency.”
It had been to set up a few of Dad’s clients in the Caymans. “This is vacation.”

Not technically a lie. It seemed as though I might be having a forced fling with Sam Bradford, if talking him into trusting me turned out to be as difficult as expected. Thinking about it twisted my lips into a grimace. Plenty of girls would willingly take my place, but there were way too many reasons this was a terrible idea. Dad hadn’t wanted to hear any of them, though, even though it could very possibly mean curtains on my time at Whitman.

I was used to moving, though, and I could graduate from anywhere with a marketing degree. The plan to get Sam to trust me would work, but I hadn’t thought of a way to come out the other end still smelling like roses. He would tell Quinn what I really am, and my life here would become a living hell, at best. 

Audra watched me, her expression curious. “What are you thinking about? You looked so sad for a second.”

“Did I?” I forced a smile, unused to having other people watching
“I was thinking about how I hardly see you since you’ve started dating Logan.”

“I know.” Audra reached out and squeezed my hand. “I’m going to do better at managing my time. Plus, the sex has to slow down eventually, right? Like, the honeymoon period only lasts so long?”

Knowing the answer to that question would require having been with someone long enough to find out. “That’s what I hear.”

“Cole has been bugging me about why I never spend time at their house anymore, too. The excuses of not wanting to hang out with old grad students and sorority duties only goes so far.”

“I can’t believe he doesn’t know who you’re dating, Audra. Whitman isn’t that big of a campus. He’s going to find out sooner or later, and don’t you think it’s going to hurt his feelings that you didn’t tell him about a guy you’re so obviously crazy about?”

“I’m more worried about what piece of Logan he’ll hurt if he finds out at all.”

 I rolled my eyes and grabbed the folder of financial reports off my desk. “The Stuart brothers can’t possibly have expected you to never date a single soul until you married. Right?”

She shrugged and slipped into a pair of heels, declining to answer the question. “Ready?”

We left the room together, her knee-length skirt and mine making swishing noises in the empty hallway. It bothered me that Audra was so keen on keeping her relationship a secret from her brothers. If Logan was a good, upstanding guy then she would trust him to win her family over . . . wouldn’t she?

Spending years watching other people—brothers and sisters, parents and children—meant that I knew them well enough to scent their weak spots. It taught me nothing about how to live inside a family unit. There were surely more complications than I could guess, so maybe Audra deserved some slack.

But if she and Logan were still dating when I got back from Christmas break then my sleazy private investigator would have another project. I lived by my instincts. I’d learned to trust them, and even though Audra would probably hate me as much as everyone else once she found out about my dad and what we’d done to Sam, she was the closest thing I’d ever had to a friend. My greasy worry over this obsessive relationship wouldn’t go away until I figured out the source.

We lined up in alphabetical order to enter the Chapter Room. The other girls bitched about the formality and traditions. It was kind of a pain to follow them to the letter every time, but it made this experience feel special to me. Like we were part of a giant family, one that had been formed a hundred years ago by a group of women not too unlike us, and we all still belonged to one another, bound together by the little things that we’d done together over and over.

When I reached down to make sure my phone was on silent, I saw a text message from Captain Sleazeball, the private investigator.


Westin hotel in Melbourne, and according to my sources, has plans to spend the majority of the next two months in the area. I’ve sent the address and room number to your private e-mail account. Let me know if you require any additional specifics.


Great. Fucking Australia. Despite what I’d told Audra, it looked as if I might not be able to finish the semester on campus. It would be tricky, since I’d used the family emergency excuse last spring, but my professors would probably let me take the finals remotely. I was a good student, and they trusted my devotion to academia. Taking into consideration the fact that plenty of Whitman students had less-than-average lifestyles, with the right explanation, they’d be falling over themselves to let me finish from the road.

The music started in the Chapter Room and the line of chattering sorority girls fell silent. We stepped through the white-painted doors, and I took my place at the table toward the front. I watched the rest of them file into rows of cloth-adorned folding chairs, wearing their Kappa Chi letters on their chests and varying expressions of interest. 

They were the only sisters I’d ever have, the only family who had ever chosen me. Like true families, even the girls I didn’t particularly like, I loved. A hole opened up in my chest at the thought of losing a single one of them.

I couldn’t afford to think like that. They weren’t family, which meant I didn’t get to keep them. It had been a hard, early, lesson in the days and weeks after my mother’s death.

Chapter 5




I’d opted out of Thanksgiving with my family. They didn’t know about the stolen money yet, but they had seen the same gossip on the news that Quinn had. They’d been relentlessly asking me to explain, unwilling to accept my “it was a mistake” explanation.

Not unwilling. Afraid. If I lost everything, so did they, and my parents had no intention of getting a job other than following me around the world. The only member of my family that I felt close to was my cousin Melody. She was three years older than me and a successful book editor in New York City, and we’d been close ever since she’d spent a year traveling with me during college.

She’d never once asked me for money. It shouldn’t matter, but it did.

Summer held Melbourne tight in its grasp. Choosing to come here for my six weeks off had multiple benefits, the warm weather being a big one. The massive time difference and jet lag followed close behind, because it also meant that I wouldn’t be expected home for Christmas, since the Australian hardcourt season began at the beginning of the new year.

Basically, I could wallow here for the next month and a half without anyone bothering me. I was not typically a wallower, but this one had been earned. Fucking Neil.

This morning had disappeared into a haze of burning muscles and sticky buckets of sweat. The five-mile run on the beach, followed by an hour in the weight room, then a two-hour practice had done wonders for my state of mind, but I needed a shower worse than a homeless person.

I let myself into my suite at the Westin, then stopped cold at the sight of Blair Paddington, who didn’t disappear after a hard blink. She sat on the love seat, looking as beautiful as the last time I’d seen her, which I realized in that moment had been far too long ago. Her hands were steady as she poured tea from a silver pot into delicate, rose-painted china, then dumped in a lump of sugar and stirred. The bored gaze that met mine was dark brown, almost black, like an inviting cup of coffee. Matching hair tumbled past her shoulders, begging me to run my fingers through it, to fist my hands in it.

BOOK: Staying On Top (Whitman University)
11.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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