Read Trade Me Online

Authors: Courtney Milan

Tags: #courtney milan, #contemporary romance, #new adult romance, #college romance, #billionaire

Trade Me

 

The Cyclone Series, Book 1

Courtney Milan

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www.courtneymilan.com

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Tina Chen just wants a degree and a job, so her parents never have to worry about making rent again. She has no time for Blake Reynolds, the sexy billionaire who stands to inherit Cyclone Technology. But when he makes an off-hand comment about what it means to be poor, she loses her cool and tells him he couldn’t last a month living her life.

To her shock, Blake offers her a trade: She’ll get his income, his house, his car. In exchange, he’ll work her hours and send money home to her family. No expectations; no future obligations. But before long, they’re trading not just lives, but secrets, kisses, and heated nights together.
No expectations
might break Tina’s heart…but Blake’s secrets could ruin her life.

The Cyclone Series

Book 1:
Trade Me
— Tina & Blake’s book

Book 2:
Hold Me
— Maria & Jay’s book

Book 3:
Find Me
— more about Tina, Blake, Adam…and someone else.

Note: This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people, companies, or products is purely coincidental.

Click here for a full Table of Contents.

For CW, CJ, and MT

I would say why I’m dedicating this book to you.

But there’s an old Russian proverb:

One never speaks of rope in the house of the condemned…

1.

TINA

Today is going to be a good day.

There is little outward evidence of this. Ragged, gray clouds skittered in overhead during my morning bus ride. By the time I got to my stop a few blocks from the edge of campus, rain was coming down in earnest. Now, passing cars send up a fine spray of droplets. The umbrella in my backpack gave up the ghost as soon as I pulled it out, and I haven’t had a chance to duct tape the fabric to the spines yet, because I’m about fourteen minutes away from a class that starts in eleven minutes and twenty-nine seconds.

Today hasn’t started particularly well, and my schedule only forecasts worse. I have five hours of work this afternoon and several projects due in the next two days. Before I can tackle any of that, there’s the pesky issue of three hours of morning classes. I’ll be lucky to sleep before midnight.

But counterbalancing that undoubtedly depressing list is one bright beacon: I’m wearing my favorite sweater.

I know. It doesn’t sound like much. But here are the facts: My favorite sweater is white cashmere. It’s soft and warm. I found it in a Salvation Army in Alhambra when I was buying clothes for college two and a half years ago, tagged with the ridiculously low price of $3.79 even though it looked like it had never been worn.

I argued with myself—and my mom—about buying it for twenty minutes. On the one hand, it was a mint-condition cashmere sweater for under five bucks. On the other hand, it was cashmere. And white.

And that’s why I’m positive that today will be a good day. Twenty-nine months after that purchase, I still have that sweater and it’s still unstained. And let me tell you, Tina Chen is
not
usually that graceful on her own. That’s two and a half years of no dropped coffee cups or sliding spaghetti strands. It’s twenty-nine months of no toner spills at work, of nobody bumping into me holding a slice of pizza at the wrong time.

My life usually feels like a living illustration of Murphy’s Law. But when I wear my favorite sweater, somehow everything that can go wrong magically doesn’t.

So yes, today
is
going to be a good day. I’m not generally a superstitious person, but I don’t have to imagine my luck aligning. The rain slows and the clouds begin to thin as I make my way to the forested edge of campus. The pedestrian signal magically changes at the exact moment I come to the intersection. The campus bell tower is playing an arrangement of “Take Me to the River,” and even though I’m breathing fast by the time I make it to Dwinelle, where my class is, I’ve made up for lost time. All I have to do is cross one last expanse of wet asphalt and painted white lines.

The lot is filled with gleaming-wet cars, and I pick my way through it, navigating around dirty puddles of rainbow-hued water. I check my watch one last time. Three minutes to go. One minute to get to the building, two to dash up the stairs. I’m going to make it.

One minute, I’m stepping out from between two cars, looking at my wrist. The next, a silent blur of glistening black engineering going way too fast for a parking lot cuts by. The car sweeps beside me and muddy, oily water sheets up in a wave. I don’t have time to move away. I barely even have time to turn my head. Water flies everywhere, drenching me.

The wind picks up—or maybe I only feel its chilled fingers against my arm because I’m wet through. I wipe my face, glaring at the car ahead of me. It takes me a moment standing frozen in the parking lot to understand what just happened. I’m cold. I’m wet. And that means…

I look down, and it’s not just my arm that feels cold. The whole world seems to turn to ice around me, shivering and shaking.

My sweater.

That asshole just splashed muddy water all over my sweater. Dark flecks mark the once-bright white sleeve.

For a moment, I can’t even believe it. It’s not possible.

Oh, trust me. This kind of thing happens all the time. But it’s not supposed to happen to my sweater.

Fuck. Fuck, fuck.

I glare at the car. It turns smoothly and pulls into a space marked with a sign proclaiming that the spot is reserved for visitors of the Chancellor’s Office. Whoever’s inside, whoever is driving, is already off limits. My fists clench, but what am I supposed to do? Yell at some visiting official?

Then the car door opens and the driver gets out. He’s tall and thin with sandy-blond hair. He reaches back into the car for a messenger bag and then slams the door.

He’s not the Chancellor. He’s not even a visitor to the Chancellor’s office. And I don’t need to be psychic to know that, because I recognize this driver. For one, he’s in my next class.

For another, he’s Blake Reynolds. Yes,
the
Blake Reynolds—he of the adorable childhood commercials, of Cyclone Systems fame.

Up until now, I have had nothing against Blake Reynolds. He sits one aisle over in class. Our discussion section started two weeks ago, and during that time we’ve made eye contact once or twice during class. He has a nice smile.

When I’m eighty, and I don’t care about the truth anymore, I’ll tell all the kids who will listen that yes, I knew Blake Reynolds, and you know, he kind of had a thing for me. You should have seen me back then. I was so cute!

But I’m twenty now and I don’t have the luxury of lying to myself. And so right now, watching him stride across the parking lot, the memory of his smile turns my stomach. Blake’s smile is like a lottery ticket: It’s the smile that a thousand people will use to construct impossible dreams. In reality, it’s as indifferent as the weather. Good fortune; bad fortune. It doesn’t matter. He’s never really noticed I’m there.

I have nothing against Blake Reynolds, except that he nearly ran me over. Except that every time he’s smiled at me, I’ve felt a little tickle of
something
in the pit of my stomach, and I don’t have time for
something,
let alone harboring that
something
for Blake Reynolds. I have nothing against Blake, even though he’s apparently been told he can park in the Chancellor’s spot, for God’s sake. I have nothing against the fact that the Graduate Student Instructor who leads our section practically fawns over him, hanging on every word he says as if it were chiseled on stone tablets.

I have nothing against Blake except that I’m going to spend the next few hours freezing because of him. And he got oil stains on my lucky sweater.

Fine. I admit it. I have something against Blake Reynolds.

He lopes up to the building as I squeeze water out of my sleeve. He has an easy, smooth gait, and he disappears between the glass doors before I can say anything. I follow behind, grimly strangling the straps of my backpack and pretending it’s his neck. But I don’t have time to do anything except follow him into the building, dash up a few flights of stairs, find a bathroom, and rub hopelessly at my sleeve with whatever I can find. Thirty seconds convinces me that water and a swiftly-eroding paper towel isn’t going to solve the problem.

I’m two minutes late when I slide into my seat. The instructor—he’s told us to call him Fred—gives me a dirty look. The girl behind me gives me an understanding smile as I sit down and brush at my sweater.

“Shitty weather, isn’t it?” she whispers.

“Seriously.”

Beside me, just two feet away, Blake glances my way. For a second, our eyes meet, and I imagine myself throwing my backpack at him. But he just smiles at me—that goddamned lottery ticket of a smile—as if nothing is wrong.

I gave him a dirty look, but he’s already looked away.

Of course. He still doesn’t notice.

I take my folder out of my backpack, set the week’s reading on the desk next to it, and sit back.

This is not like my programming languages class where I take notes constantly. This is a class for freshmen, a survey course where people just…talk about the reading. I have two majors, both with a huge slate of prerequisites. For scheduling reasons, I didn’t end up getting all my required classes out of the way my first two years of college. Consequently, Blake and I are the oldest ones in the class.

This is just a discussion section, which means that people—
freshmen
people, to be exact—spend time expounding on their theory of the world. Since almost none of them have any experience to speak of, the discussions tend to be both heated and naïve. I’m not a big talker, so I normally don’t say anything unless I’m prodded.

We’ve been talking about the politics of the safety net for the last week and a half. Today, we’re talking about food stamps. Everyone speaks earnestly and academically about topics that have no effect on their daily lives. I don’t know if I’m alone in my experience—I can’t be the only one in here who doesn’t come from money—but from the conversation, it sure sounds like it. I nod and pretend that these things don’t matter to me, either.

I pretend it doesn’t matter when the girl at the front of the class says that people on food stamps are lazy. I pretend I don’t care when someone talks about how they saw someone buying a fifth of vodka and a bag of candy with EBT. I nod and I smile and I try not to shiver. I tell myself it’s the draft, that it’s my drenched, mud-stained, no-longer-lucky sweater.

And don’t get me wrong. This is Cal, and the students here are not exactly known for their staunch conservatism, so there are even more people defending the concept of food stamps. Somehow, they still manage to imply that people on food stamps are an endangered species and that the smarter, better parts of society should extend a helping hand to those less-fortunate primates who can’t take care of themselves. God save me from college students who think they can save a world they don’t really inhabit.