One Tiny Lie (Ten Tiny Breaths, #2)(6)

“I’m sorry . . .” She shrugs, glancing back at him. “Gotta admit he’s hot, though, Livie. He looks like a Mediterranean underwear model. There’d be no coyote-ugly situation in the morning there.”

I sigh. I don’t know why Kacey seems hell-bent on getting me to trade in my “V-card.” For years, she never cared. In fact, she seemed happy that I didn’t date in high school. But lately she’s been driven by this notion that I’m sexually repressed. I swear I’m beginning to loathe her choice to go into psychology.

“Just look at him!”

“No,” I refuse stubbornly.

“Fine,” she mutters, grabbing four shooters off a platter that a stocky guy in a kilt—a kilt, at a toga party?—carries past. “But if you were planning on giving it up anytime, I’ll bet that would be a memorable way to do it. I’m sure he’d quickly get you up to speed on all that you’ve missed these past few years.”

“Including gonorrhea and crabs?” I mumble, staring at the two blue shooter cups in my hand. I’m thankful for the dark as I feel my cheeks flush deeply. Bringing the one to my mouth as I had before, I let my tongue skate across the top of it, mentally reliving the seconds of that—I refuse to acknowledge that as my first kiss—that thing he did to me.

“Bottoms up!” Kacey sucks hers back in rapid succession.

I follow her lead with the first. With the second one at my mouth, I stupidly hazard a sideways glance, assuming he’s moved on to another unsuspecting victim. But he hasn’t. He’s there, surrounded by a few girls, one with her hand against the tattoo on his chest. But he’s still watching me. Still smiling. Except now it’s this strange, dark smile, as if he has a secret.

I guess he does. My secret.

A nervous thrill fires through me as my cup sits frozen at my lips.

“That’s Ashton Henley!” someone yells into my ear. With a start, I turn to find Reagan next to me, a beer in one hand and a shooter in the other. She’s so short that she needs to be on tiptoes to reach my ear.

“How do you know who he is?” I ask, embarrassed to be caught ogling.

“He’s the captain of the Princeton Heavyweight rowing team. My dad is the coach,” she explains, her speech slurring slightly. Her hand waves around the room in a wide spiral. “I know a lot of these guys.” That explains her social ease, I guess. “And I think you’ve caught his attention, roomie,” she adds with a sly wink.

I shrug and give her a tight smile, wanting to change subjects before we give him the satisfaction of figuring out we’re talking about him. But as I glance around the room at the little pockets of females and see the glances in his direction—some furtive, some downright obvious—I’m sure there’s no shortage of attention on this Ashton guy.

Reagan confirms that a second later. “And he’s pretty much the hottest guy at this school.” She takes a sip of her beer. “And also, a giant ass.”

“That much, I gathered,” I murmur, more to myself than to her. I suck back my shooter, intentionally turning my back to him, hoping he’ll redirect his predatory stare to a willing recipient.

“And a bit of a man whore.”

This just keeps getting better and better. “I’m sure he’ll have no trouble finding someone to . . . whore it up with.” Someone who isn’t me.

I’m not sure if I’m officially drunk or Kacey is a magician, but she does a twirl and two more shooters land in my hand. The music has picked up tempo and volume and now I feel it vibrating through my entire body, making my hips sway of their own accord to the beat.

“It’s fun here, isn’t it?” Reagan shouts, her straight honey-blond hair flipping around as she jumps, throwing her arms in the air and screeching, “Wooh!” She has a ton of energy. Like one of those kids who gets dosed with Ritalin. “All these people, the excitement, the music. I love it!”

I smile and nod as I look around again. And I have to admit, this is fun. “I’m glad I came!” I yell, bumping shoulders with Kacey. “Keep me out of any more trouble tonight, though. Please,” I warn as I suck both shots back.

Kacey answers with a laugh, hooking an arm around mine and throwing the other arm around Reagan, who happily joins in the revelry. “Of course, baby sis. Tonight, Princeton is going to party Cleary style.”

I giggle, my sister’s giddiness temporarily pushing everything else away. “I don’t even know what that means.”

With one of my sister’s notorious evil grins, she says, “You’re about to find out.”


The Beast

There are about five seconds of calm and blissful ignorance after I crack my eyes open. Five seconds when I stare at the white ceiling looming not far from my face, as my eyes adjust to the dim light, as my brain just sits idly, waiting for the neurons to start firing.

And then the avalanche of confusion hits.

Where am I?

How did I get here?

What the hell happened?

I roll my head and find my sister’s face only a few inches away. “Kacey?” I whisper.

She moans, and my nostrils catch her rank breath. I cringe and turn away. Too quickly, it would seem, as a sharp, stabbing pain pierces my brain. I cringe a second time.

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