My Most Read Authors

Hello lovelies! Recently, I watched one of Jess’s videos (PeaceLoveBooksxo) and came up with an idea of sharing with you my most read authors. If you want to check out your most read authors, go to your Goodreads bookshelves then on the left side, click “Most Read Authors”. You’ll see the authors along with the number of books (including novellas) you’ve read.

I’m going to mention my top 10 authors and it will be in ascending order. I’ll write an update next year if there’s any change with the ranking.

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Nora Roberts – 12 books

  • She’s a best-selling author who has written tons of novels. Her books got me into reading and loving adult romances. Whether it’s paranormal, fantasy and contemporary. I still have to read her romantic suspense series which she’d written under the name of J.D. Robb.
  • I’ve Read: The Key Trilogy, Three Sisters Island trilogy, Bride Quartet series, The Gift, Blue Smoke.

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Christina Lauren – 13 books

  • You’ve got to love the dynamic duo behind Christina Lauren – Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings – when it comes to hot male leads and steamy romances.
  • I’ve Read: Beautiful series and Wild Seasons series (except Wicked Sexy Liar)

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Kristen Proby – 13 books

  • If you’re looking for a quick, addictive and guilty pleasure read as Abbi Glines’s books, you definitely should check out Kristen Proby’s books. Her books are great to binge-read.
  • I’ve Read: With Me in Seattle series and Boudreaux series (only the first three books)

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Emma Chase – 13 books

  • This is a surprise for me. I didn’t realize I’ve read a lot of Emma Chase’s books and kept up to date. Her books will make you swoon and laugh at the same time. She’s one of the best New Adult authors who can write amazing male point of views.
  • I’ve Read: Tangled series, The Legal Briefs series and Royally series

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Pepper Winters – 13 books

  • I discovered Pepper Winters back in 2014. I recommend her books if you love reading Dark Romance. She’s one of the best in terms of plot, characterization, sizzling scenes and taboo. It can be a hit or miss depending on your comfort zone so please read at your own discretion. The thing is, I’m invested with her books.
  • I’ve read: Monsters in the Dark trilogy, Indebted series and Truth and Lies duet

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Colleen Hoover – 15 books

  • It’s no surprise for Colleen Hoover to be included in this list. She’s one of the pioneers in the New Adult genre and became one of my all time favorite authors  since I’ve read Slammed. Her books always put me on an emotional roller coaster and I love it!
  • I’ve read: All of her books except Too Late and Without Merit (October 2017).

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Samantha Young – 16 books

  • Majority of Samantha Young’s books made me swoon and another one of my all time favorite authors. Whether it’s enemies to lovers, second chance romance, best friends to lovers etc., I will read anything by her.
  • I’ve read: On Dublin Street series, Hart’s Boardwalk series (on-going), Into the Deep and Hero.

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P.C Cast and Kristin Cast – 17 books

  • When I finished Twilight Saga, I was looking for a new vampire series to read and discovered House of Night. I love that series and forever will be part of my teenage years. Merry meet, Merry part and Merry meet again NerdHerds!
  • I’ve read: House of Night series, House of Night Novellas (except Kalona’s Fall) and Fledgeling Handbook 101.

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Rachel Van Dyken – 17 books

  • Rachel Van Dyken is one of my favorite authors when it comes to contemporary romance and romantic suspense. In terms of plot and writing style, she’s improved through the years and I really recommend her books especially Eagle Elite series.
  • I’ve read: Ruin trilogy, Eagle Elite series (on-going), Consequence series (first two books) and The Bachelor Auction.

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Abbi Glines – 32 books

  • Every time I have a reading slump, Abbi Glines’s books are my go-to reads to get me out of it. Her books are so addictive and most of it I can finish it in one sitting. Note: Supposedly it’s 31 books but I’ve read two versions of Breathe (Sea Breeze #1) — YA version and New Adult version.
  • I’ve read: Sea Breeze series, Rosemary Beach Series, The Vincent Boys duet, Once She Dreamed Parts 1 & 2, The Field Party series (on-going), Sea Breeze meets Rosemary Beach (on-going).

These are my most read authors, folks! Have you read any books by them? What are your favorites? and Who are your most read authors? Feel free to share it in the comments. 😀

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Top 5 Wednesday: Favorite Bromances

This weekly meme is hosted by Lainey of Ginger Reads Lainey and Sam of Thoughts on Tomes. You can check out the weekly topics on Top 5 Wednesday – Goodreads Page. For this week’s topic: Favorite Bromances. Who doesn’t love solid male friendships that sometimes you ship them hard? Since I have limited options, the last two I’m going to mention are from TV series.  Without further ado, here are my picks:

  • Loren Hale, Connor Cobalt & Ryke Meadows (Addicted / Calloway Sisters series by Krista & Becca Ritchie) – These guys are my top pick and so far the best bromance I’ve encountered in book.series. I’m so amused with their bickering and I cherish all those moments. I love the friendship between these 3 guys. Such an unbreakable bond.
  • Garrett Graham, John Logan, Dean Laurenitis & John Tucker (Off-Campus series by Elle Kennedy) – We have another solid friendship here. The Briar Hockey players have different personalities but they’re all goofy and swoon-worthy. Out of these 4 guys, Dean is my favorite and Tucker running second.
  • Ignazio Vitale & Lorenzo Gambini (Monsters in His Eyes trilogy by J.M. Darhower) – Unlike the first two picks, the bromance between the made men is evident only on Target on Our Backs (book 3/final book). They may be frenemies, but these two showed loyalty for each other.
  • Tsukasa Domyouji, Rui Hanazawa, Soujirou Nishikado, & Akira Mimasaka (Hana Yori Dango / Boys Over Flowers) –  One of my all time favorite Asian Dramas inspired from the manga series: Hana Yori Dango by Yoko Kamio. It all started with Meteor Garden (Taiwanese version) when I was in grade school and I was addicted since. I’ve watched the Japanese and Korean version.

  • Goblin and Grim Reaper (Goblin) – My recent bromance favorite. I’m so obsessed with Goblin and Grim Reaper’s friendship (GIF: Iconic walk ftw!). The early episodes in this K-Drama will make you laugh out loud but as the episodes went on, it became more serious and emotional. I’m still not over it after I finished it two months ago and I can’t even watch another TV series. Gong Yoo and Lee Dong Wook better reunite in a drama or movie! Love their bromance chemistry ❤ ❤ ❤

Who are your favorite bromances? Feel free to share on the comments or link your T5W so I can check it out. Have a great day everyone!

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Release Blitz: Beautiful Mistake by Vi Keeland

BeautifulMistake_FrontCoverBeautiful Mistake is LIVE!

The first time I met Caine West was in a bar.

He noticed me looking his way and mistakenly read my scowling as checking him out.

When he attempted to talk to me, I set him straight—telling him what I thought of his lying, cheating, egomaniacal ass.

You see, the gorgeous jerk had wined and dined my best friend–smooth talking her into his bed, all along failing to mention that he was married.

He deserved every bit of my tongue-lashing and more for what he’d done.

Especially when that lazy smile graced his perfect face in response to my rant.

Only it turned out, the man I’d just told off wasn’t the right guy.

Oops. My mistake.

Embarrassed, I slunk out without an apology.

I was never going to see the handsome stranger again anyway, right?

That’s what I thought…until I walked into class the next morning.

Well, hello Professor West, I’m your new teaching assistant.

I’ll be working under you…figuratively speaking.

Although the literal interpretation might not be such a bad thing—working under Professor West.

This was going to be interesting…

ADD TO GOODREADS

 Buy Links: 

iBooks | B&N | Kobo | Amazon | Google Play| AMAZON PAPERBACK

Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times Bestselling author. With more than 1.5 million books sold, her titles have appeared in over eighty Bestseller lists and are currently translated in sixteen languages. She resides in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.

Website | Facebook Fan Group | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag (2017)

We’re halfway in the year of 2017 and the books I’ve read so far are quite hit and miss. To update you with my readings, I’ll be doing the Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag which was created by  ReadLikeWildFire & Ely Jane. (Click their names to watch their videos!)

The Questions:
Best book you’ve read so far in 2017.

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  • I have rated several books 5 stars but so far Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han remains on the top spot of my list. My wait for this book is all worth it. Hands. Down. Jenny Han is the best!

Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2017.

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  • Grievous by J.M. Darhower. It’s a wonderful conclusion to the Scarlet Scars duet but I want more! I WANT MORE LORENZO GAMBINI! MY PRECIOUS MAFIA MAN ❤

New release you haven’t read yet, but want to.

EAHM

  • Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. I adore her debut novel Made You Up and I’m excited to read this one soon! 😀

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year.

  • Fallen Heir by Erin Watt, Cracked Kingdom by Erin Watt,  Everything Under the Sun by J.A. Redmerski, Royally Endowed by Emma Chase, Without Merit by Colleen Hoover, Enrage by Rachel Van Dyken, The Man in the Black Suit by Sylvain Reynard etc.

Biggest disappointment.

TPSHITO

  • The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace.  I’m part of the minority who didn’t enjoy this poetry book. The topics tackled are good but the poems are bland.

Biggest surprise.

AFTD

  • Away from the Dark by Aleatha Romig. I’m not a huge fan of mystery/thrillers but Aleatha Romig’s The Light duet put me on the edge of my seat! Jeez each chapter makes me nervous especially in this conclusion. I swear, it’s freaking good.

Favourite new authors. (Debut or new to you)

  • Sally Thorne, Neal Shusterman, Sabaa Tahir, and Julie Buxbaum. I really enjoyed reading their books and I’m looking forward to read more!

Newest fictional crush.

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  • Jake Becker from Sustained by Emma Chase. He’s definitely one of my favorite SEXY BOOK HUSBAND. OMFG. Good Lord, he’s so good with the McQuaid kids. My favorite bunch of adorable rascals!

Newest Favorite Character

SUS

  • Soraya Venedetta from Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward. You gonna love Soraya because she’s sassy, independent and feisty woman. I love she gave Graham a hard time to get her.

Book that made you cry.

TAHB

  • The Air He Breathes by Brittainy C. Cherry. You can never go wrong with Brittainy C. Cherry when it comes to emotional books. When you’re going to read this one, you better grab some tissues.

Book that made you happy.

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  • The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. I live for this book’s sweet and funny moments. The banters between Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman = GOLD!

Favourite book to film adaptation you saw this year.

  • I know I’m late but I love the movie adaptation of The Martian by Andy Weir. I watched it with my mom and she love it as well. (She didn’t know it’s from a book.

Favourite review you’ve written this year. 

Made

  • Made by J.M. DarhowerI had so much fun expressing my thoughts about this book. Click here to read my review.

Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

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  • Of course it’s Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny HanThis cover is simply beautiful ❤ Love love love it!

What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

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  • I need to read Warcross by Marie Lu before this year ends. I haven’t read her books and I really miss it. I’m so excited to dive back in to her books!

I’m tagging everyone to do this tag! Have a lovely day bookworms 😉 ❤

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Top 5 Wednesday: Favorite Hate to Love Ships

This weekly meme is hosted by Lainey of Ginger Reads Lainey and Sam of Thoughts on Tomes. You can check out the weekly topics on Top 5 Wednesday – Goodreads Page. The topic for this week is Hate to Love Ships. This is my favorite topic this month because I enjoy reading Hate to Love romance and sometimes they get on my nerves. It’s my guilty pleasure kind of books.

Here are my Top 5 Hate to Love Ships:

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  • Connor Cobalt and Rose Calloway from Kiss the Sky by Krista and Becca Ritchie – These two started off as rivals, both are intelligent and competitive on everything and guys, their love story OMFG OFF THE CHARTS AMAZING. COBALLOWAY IS RELATIONSHIP FUCKING GOALS. If I want to be a book character for a day, I want to be Rose Calloway so I can have Connor Cobalt.

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  • Joshua Templeman and Lucy Hutton from The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – I’ve read this book early this year and I absolutely love this office romance as our protagonists hate each other and constantly throw witty banters. It’s so funny, entertaining and effin’ adorable.

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  • Caine Carraway and Alexa Holland from Hero by Samantha Young –  Aside from On Dublin Street, this is one of my favorite hate-to-love romance by Samantha Young. I love Alexa for always pushing Caine’s buttons and damn… SEXUAL TENSION EVERYWHERE. This book has a family drama and there’s a reason why Caine is a jerk at times. He’s quite hot and cold.

 

BULLY

  • Jared Trent and Tatum Brandt from Bully by Penelope Douglas – When it comes to hate-love romance, Penelope Douglas’s books are a must try. This is a story of childhood best friends who fell apart as Jared starts hating Tate when he came back from a vacation. Tate doesn’t know why he hates her and it went on for years. Both characters hurt each other and somehow make up for the lost time as Tate seeks answers from him. Bully is told in Tate’s POV and if you’re curious on Jared’s POV, I recommend Until You.

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  • Reed Royal and Elle Harper from Paper Princess by Erin Watt –  I am addicted with this book / series. If you love Hana Yori Dango / Boys Over Flowers / Meteor Garden then you are going to love this book. Hands down to Elle Kennedy and Jen Frederick!

Who are your favorite hate to love ships? Feel free to share it on the comments or link your T5W post! 

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Cover Reveal: Dear Bridget, I Want You by Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland

 

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Dear Bridget, I Want You

by Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Publication Date: September 18th 2017

BLURB [Add the book to Goodreads ]

Dear Bridget,

I’m writing this letter because it’s highly doubtful I’ll ever garner the courage to say this to your face.

So, here goes.

We’re totally wrong for each other. You’re the proper single mum with a good head on your shoulders. I’m just the carefree British doctor passing through town and temporarily living in your converted garage until I head back to England.

But here’s the thing… for some bloody reason, I can’t stop thinking about you in very inappropriate ways.

I want you.

The only reason I’m even admitting all of this to you right now is because I don’t believe it’s one-sided. I notice your eyes when you look at me, too. And as crass as I appear when we’re joking around about sex, my attraction to you is not a joke.

So, what’s the purpose of this note? I guess it’s a reminder that we’re adults, that sex is healthy and natural, and that you can find me just through the door past the kitchen. More specifically, it’s to let you know that I’m leaving said door cracked open from now on in case you’d like to visit me in the middle of the night sometime.

No questions asked.

Think about it.

Or don’t.

Whatever you choose.

It’s doubtful I’ll even end up sliding this letter under your door anyway.

–Simon

Model:  Philip Van den Hoogenband – Chadwick Models Melbourne

Photographer:  Brian Jamie

Cover designer:  Letitia Hasser, RBA Designs

PURCHASE LINKS:

iBooks exclusive ebook pre-order ➜  http://smarturl.it/y4x3xi

Amazon paperback ➜ http://amzn.to/2sGyJbZ

Sign up for Penelope & Vi’s mailing list now and be the first one notified when it goes live!  http://bit.ly/2nAnobD

About the Authors:

www.angelarowlings.comPenelope Ward

Penelope Ward is a New York Times, USA Today, and #1 Wall Street Journal Bestselling author of thirteen novels. With over a million books sold, her titles have placed on the New York Times Bestseller list fifteen times. She is the proud mother of a beautiful 12-year-old girl with autism (the inspiration for the character Callie in Gemini) and a 10-year-old boy. Penelope, her husband, and kids reside in Rhode Island.

Social Media: 

Facebook | Facebook Author Page | Facebook Fan Page | Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

Author photoVi Keeland

Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestselling author. With more than a million books sold, her titles have appeared in over fifty Bestseller lists and are currently translated in fourteen languages. She lives in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.

Social Media:

Facebook| Facebook Author Page | Website | Twitter | Facebook Fan Group | Instagram | Goodreads

Top 5 Wednesday: Books for your Hogwarts House (Hufflepuff)

Facebook Profile Image 180 x 180 px FINAL HufflepuffThis weekly meme is hosted by Lainey of Ginger Reads Lainey and Sam of Thoughts on Tomes. You can check out the weekly topics on Top 5 Wednesday – Goodreads Page. The topic for this week is Books for your Hogwarts House. I’m a Hufflepuff and based on Pottermore : “Hufflepuffs value hard work, patience, loyalty and fair play.”

Without futher ado, here are the top 5 books that represents my Hogwarts House:

  • Sustained by Emma Chase –  The heroine in this book is incredibly admirable on taking care of her nephews and nieces who lost their parents. She’s humble, persevering and forbearing. You got to love Chelsea McQuaid.
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares – Even if they don’t see each other on Summer their friendship never last as they stay connected because of the traveling pants. Lena, Carmen, Bridget and Tibby are best friends who stick together for life.
  • The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay –  It takes a while reading this book and you must push yourself getting through the slow moments.  I’ve been there and the result? I fell in love with Nastya Kashnikov and Josh Bennett’s story. You might want to grab some tissues too 😉
  • The Goal by Elle Kennedy –  This might be my least favorite book in the Off-Campus series but I would like to give props to John Tucker for being a patient, kind, sweet, responsible and dedicated man. I have no complains about him. He’s indeed a Hufflepuff in my opinion.
  • Made by J.M. Darhower –  You might want to put Corrado Moretti in the Slytherin house and thought he’s a villain for being a made man. Corrado is nor good or evil but he’s one of the most loyal character ever. He’s faithful to the woman who captured his heart and a protector to his family. No one dares to provoke him or death is going to catch you sooner.

What are the books you think represents your Hogwarts House? Let me know on the comments below! 

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Top 5 Wednesday: Books That Would Make Good Video Games

This weekly meme is created by Lainey of Ginger Reads Lainey and Sam of Thoughts on Tomes . You can check out the weekly topics on the Top 5 Wednesday – Goodreads Page. This week’s topic is about books that I think can be good as video games. 🙂 There are lots to choose from and breaking down to five is quite challenging.

  • In the Company of Killers by J.A. Redmerski – This is the first one that came out of my mind. I think it’s going to be an amazing action/shooting game. Story mode: Pick an assassin as playable characters or it can be a co-op multiplayer game or even VS Game. Shit. It’s. Going. To. Be. A. BLOODY.
  • Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco – For this, it’s going to be an adventure/horror game. Okiku (The ghost) will be the playable character in helping lost souls as they seek justice and Okiku is the one to hunt them down.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir – Survival / Adventure Role Playing Game. Mark Watney as playable character as he figures out to survive in Mars and communicate back to Earth. Eventually, he gets back to Earth. P.S. BOTANY POWERS
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Adventure/Magical game. It’s going to have a Harry Potter-kind of vibes. Better experience in Virtual Reality.
  • Legend by Marie Lu – RPG / Action / Adventure either June or Day will be playable characters. Each will have their own story mode. Well… good luck on Champion. ALTERNATIVE ENDING PLS. Haha!

 

What are some books do you think can be great video games? Let me know your thoughts on the comments!

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Cover Reveal [Excerpt + Giveaway] : Lessons in Losing It by Jessica Peterson

LiLiI’m excited to share with you guys the cover of the fourth book in the Study Abroad series Lessons in Losing It by Jessica Peterson! It will be Fred and Rachel’s story and it’s going to be a friends-to-lovers kind of romance.  This book is set to release on June 2nd, 2017 and you may pre-order this book on Amazon , iTunes , and Kobo for only $0.99!

Summary (Goodreads)

Just friends…

That’s all soccer star Fred Ohr wants to be with Rachel Collins, the American student he meets at party in his adopted hometown of Madrid.  He’s looking for the real deal—someone who’ll stick around Spain for more than a semester—so he resolves to keep her at arm’s length.  Even if she is sexy as hell.  Smart.  And as crazy about sports as he is.

But friends don’t kiss.  They don’t do sleepovers.  And they definitely don’t get rug burn from having the best sex ever on the living room carpet.

Fred and Rachel’s connection is instant.  Intense.  He loves to cook breakfast for her.  She loves it when he cooks wearing nothing but his glasses.

Only Rachel’s got a dream internship waiting for her back in the states.  And Fred is lining up a contract worth millions to stay in Madrid.  They’re playing with fire to keep seeing each other like this.  But how can they resist when the sex is so great—really, really freaking great—and the fun they have together is even better?

author-photo-1About the Author:

Jessica Peterson began reading romance to escape the decidedly unromantic awkwardness of her teenage years. Having found solace in the likes of Mr. Darcy, Jamie Fraser (OMG love the gingers!), and Edward Cullen, it wasn’t long before she began creating tall, dark and handsome heroes of her own.

She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, Mr. Peterson, and her smelly Goldendoodle Martha Bean.

Get to read the First two chapters of Lessons in Losing It and a chance to win $25 Amazon or Apple Gift via Rafflecopter! Click here to join.

 

LESSONS IN LOSING IT First Chapters

Uncorrected Proof

Copyright 2017 by Peterson Paperbacks

Chapter 1

Fred

Madrid, Spain

December

        It’s just after midnight, and the celebration is in full swing.  Our squad captain’s swanky flat is bursting with people and noise and cigar smoke.  The floor throbs in time to a catchy pop song; girls dance on a nearby table.  One of them keeps looking at me.

        Well.  Checking me out, really.  Her eyes devour me from my legs up to my chest, but they stop there.  She doesn’t bother to look any higher than my neck.

        I slip out of the hall and make a beeline for the (relative) safety of the kitchen.  The euphoria of tonight’s win over our rival, Barcelona, is beginning to fade, and my hip is sore as fuck from the hit I took late in the match.

        Being ogled like just another footballer piece of meat is not doing wonders for my very real desire to get the hell out of here and read Harry Potter in bed.  I bloody love that little wizard and his mates.

        I use the bottle opener on my key ring to pop the top off one of the beers I brought with me.  I take a long, hard sip, wondering if it’s too early to pull a Houdini.

       

        I felt great on the pitch tonight.  I helped the squad cinch a huge victory—Spaniards can’t keep their pants on when it comes to the Madrid-Barcelona football rivalry.  I was on cloud nine, like I usually am when I’m playing footy.

        But now?  Now I’m tired and sore as hell, and after a half dozen post-match interviews, my capacity for small talk is nonexistent.

        As a solid introvert, I like to recuperate, alone, after the craziness of a match day.  Football is really the only thing that energizes me—it’s the only thing I’ve ever excelled at—so I’ve practically lived and breathed the sport since I was fifteen.

        It’s not a bad gig.  Not in the slightest.  I may feel a bit out of place at these parties.  But I love my job, and I’m fucking good at it.  I get paid an obscene amount of money.  Not that football’s ever been about the money for me, but it’s definitely a nice perk.

        Needless to say, I’m content with my lot.  Even if I do hate these parties and the girls that come to them.

        Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to find the sort of girl I’m looking for—the sort who’s genuinely interested in me and not my money or my body or my career.  I’m looking for a girl who wants the same things I do.

        A girl who wants to get serious, maybe have a family someday.  Not anytime soon, of course, but I don’t see the point in being with someone if our relationship doesn’t have forever potential.

        I head to living room, which just so happens to be one room closer to the nearest exit.  I’ve been at this party for a couple of hours already; I’ve paid my dues.  Time to go home.

        I hang out in the corner of the room and quickly drain the rest of my beer.  I’m digging my keys out of my pocket when Rhys Maddox, one of my few friends on the squad and our resident golden-haired heartthrob, claps me on the shoulder.  He nods at a group of girls, all of them pretty and smiling, across the room.  “Ready to go say hello?  Laura’s friends are lovely girls.”

        Laura is Rhys’s American girlfriend.  She’s funny, she’s nice, and she’s really great for Rhys (even though he may not know it yet).  Basically she’s one of my favorite people on Earth.

        I’ve seen these girls before; they’re her American friends she’s studying abroad with in Madrid.  I told Rhys earlier tonight that I’d introduce myself.  Now I’m really regretting that decision.  Hermoine and Ron are calling my name, and my hip is killing me.

        Shit.

        “They’re pretty,” I say, feigning anxiety when really I’m just impatient to get the fuck out of here already.  “Really pretty.  Forget it.  I changed my mind.  I can’t go talk to them, not right now.”

        I’m about to turn for the door, but Rhys tightens his grip on my shoulder, turning me back toward the girls.

        “Listen, mate,” he says.  “If you can’t talk to girls after winning our most epic match yet, there’s something seriously wrong with you.  C’mon.”

        With a sigh, I let Rhys steer me toward the girls.  I just have to play nice for two minutes.  Two minutes of torture.  But at least after that I can go home.

        “Hi,” Laura says, smiling at us.

        Rhys smiles back, a big, dorky thing I’ve never seen on him before.  “Feeling all right?”

        “Yes.”  She turns to me.  “Fred!  I’m so glad you came over.  The girls have been dying to meet you.  This is my friend Vivian, and this”—she loops arms with a very pretty, dark-haired girl—“is Rachel, she really loves, uh, sports…”

        Meeting my eyes, Rachel smiles and holds out her hand.  I’m struck by the friendliness of her smile.  It’s a high-wattage, Julia-Roberts-style smile, but it’s somehow sincere, too.  Intimate.

        So bloody different from the come-hither grin that girl dancing on the table gave me earlier.

        “Hi, Fred,” she says.  Her American accent dips a little, curls at the edges; I don’t recognize it.  Southern, maybe?  “Nice to meet you.  You looked really great out there tonight.”

        I take her hand.  She gives mine a firm, warm squeeze.  My eyes flick down her body, back up again.  She’s petite—I practically tower over her—and hot as hell.  I didn’t know I was a boob guy until this very second.  Hers are…gah, they are perfect.

        Rachel drops my hand.  I blink, mentally chastising myself for ogling her like a piece of meat.  I don’t like being looked at that way, and I doubt Rachel does, either.

        Get it together.  I need to get it together.  But something about this girl—her boobs? her smile?—is making it difficult to do that.

        “Thanks,” I say. “I, um, hope you enjoyed yourself.”

        “We froze our asses off, but it was worth it,” she says.  “The energy in that stadium is ridiculous!  It was so loud my ears are still ringing a little.  Is it that loud on the field—the pitch, I mean?”

        “Oh, God, yes,” I say.  “So loud you feel it in your chest.  To say our fans are passionate is an understatement.  Other squads say it’s the toughest place to play when you’re on the road.”

        “I noticed you were limping a little after that hit you took in the second half.  If you don’t mind me asking, how do you rehab an injury like that?  Ice?  Ibuprofen?  Probably lots of rest, too, right?”

        Her eyes, dark and intelligent, are on the hip in question.  So Rachel really paid attention to the match.  I like her curiosity.

        I also like her confidence.  I’ve known her all of sixty seconds, but she’s got this lovely, down-to-earth energy that sets her apart.

        She’s obviously gorgeous, too.  Those eyes—Jesus, they make my pulse jump.

        “Yes—a combination of all three, actually.  How’d you know that?  Do you play football?”

        “Tennis, mostly, but I played a little bit of everything in high school—basketball, volleyball, soccer—sorry, football.  I’m kind of a sports nut.”  She grins, tucking her long, inky brown hair behind one ear.  “I bet you’ll have one hell of a bruise tomorrow.”

        I nod, trying not to stare at her.  Not only is she beautiful and confident, she’s also as obsessed with sports as I am.  I’ve got to be dreaming.  This girl is way too good to be true.

        “Yeah,” I manage, “this one’s going to be bad.  Been wanting to get home all night so I can have a good cry about it.”

        I pretend to wipe away a rogue tear, throw in a sniffle.  She laughs.

        The sound floods my ribcage with warmth. It’s not forced, her laugh, or fake.  I’d know; I’m an expert at coaxing belly laughs from my niece Lilli (pro tip: the peek-a-boo game goes a long way with a nine month old).

        “Oh, come on, you rolled around the field in apparent agony for, like, five minutes after that play.  Surely there were tears then?  Fake tears, at the very least?”

        Americans love to poke fun at our, er, theatrical response to getting injured on the pitch.  This is nothing new.  But the good natured way Rachel is teasing me about it—that is.

        I have no idea what the fuck is going on, but I suddenly want to stay at this party more than I want to dive back into The Prisoner of Azkaban.

        I’m suddenly having more fun with a real live person than I would with fictional ones.  She’s just so friendly and so gorgeous.  Clearly smart, too.

        I mean, this is usually the point in the conversation when I’d excuse myself, pleading one of three vague but believable excuses—I’m fucking exhausted, I’ve got to go to [insert football-related activity here], or so sorry, but my mum and/or sister is calling me.  My life is predictable enough that one of the three is true at any given time.

        But right now, I actually want to stick around.  See what else Rachel has to say about…well, everything.

        “I save my fake tears for weekday matches, thank you very much,” I reply.

        “Oh?” She crosses her arms.  I try—and fail—not to notice that this makes her breasts look even bigger.  Get.it.together.  “And why is that?”

        “The thing about fake tears is that they really take a lot out of you,” I say.  I notice that sometime in the past few minutes, Rhys and Laura disappeared.  Rachel’s other friends are gone, too.  Can’t say I’m not glad to have her all to myself.  “I would know, as I’m an expert.  I’ve got to prepare for days ahead of time.”

        She cocks a brow.  “Prepare?  How?”

        “Watch Titanic on repeat and practice in the mirror, obviously.”

        “Obviously,” she says, chewing on her bottom lip as her face lights up with a smile.  I really, really wish she’d stop chewing on her bottom lip, because it’s driving me crazy.  It’s making me think about how much I’d like to take that lip between my own teeth.  “So you’re German?”

        “I am.”

        “Where are you from?”

        I grin harder, hoping it will distract her from the tent I’ve started to pitch in my pants.  Fuck.  “Germany.”

        “I know,” she teases back.  “Where in Germany?”

        “The south.  A town called Weilheim in Oberbyern.  It’s in Bavaria.  Best beer in the world there.  I actually brought some bottles with me—want to grab one?” I ask, nodding my head toward the kitchen.

        Rachel looks at me.  She appears as startled by the invitation as I am.  I’m never this cool or forward with girls.  With people.  Ever.

        “Yeah,” she says after a beat.  “Yeah, I’d like that.  Everyone here is drinking this fancy champagne—someone said it was the most expensive in the world?—but I’m more of a beer girl myself.”

        “Yeah, that’s our captain, Olivier Seydoux, for you.  Only the best of the best for that bloke.”  I glance back at her as we head for the kitchen.  “So you really like beer, huh?”

        “I do.  My dad’s from Milwaukee, and my grandmother worked at one of the big breweries there.  Needless to say, my beer education started at a young age.  My high school friends thought it was so cool that my dad would let me have a beer with him when we watched college football—American football—on Saturdays.”  She rolls her eyes.  “I was so badass back then.”

        I reach inside the cabinet where I hid my stash and grab the last two beers.  “You’re not badass anymore?”

        “Meh,” Rachel says with a shrug.  She watches as I grab the key ring from my pocket and use the opener to pop the tops off the bottles.  Her eyes linger on my hands.  “Do you always carry a bottle opener with you?”

        I spear her with a look.  “You don’t?”

        “I don’t.  But!”  She rummages around in her purse, and pulls out a pair of these little foam sleeve things.  “I do always have a couple of coozies on me.”

        “Coozies?  What the hell are those?”

        “Watch and be amazed.”  She slips the first foam sleeve onto one beer—it’s printed with white letters that read BATCAVE SPRING FORMAL 2016, MERYTON U—and then the second, emblazoned with a donkey’s ass and nothing else, on the other.

        “You see,” she says, handing me the one with the donkey ass, “it keeps the beer cold.  Although we’re not drinking it cold, so I guess it would just keep the beer from getting too warm from our hands?”  She scrunches her nose.  “I don’t know.  I guess it makes sense coozies wouldn’t be a thing in Europe.”

        The scrunched nose—seriously, could Rachel be any more adorable?

        “At the very least, they keep you from getting your bottle mixed up with someone else’s, yeah?” I offer.

        She laughs, crossing one leg over the other.  Her body tilts toward mine, just a little, and suddenly the temperature in the room goes up a notch.  I haven’t been attracted to someone like this in what feels like forever.  The impulse to erase the small space between our bodies is fucking hard as hell to resist.

        “Yeah,” she says.  “I’ll take it, mostly because I got to show off my coozie collection.”  She holds out her beer.  “Cheers, Fred.  Congratulations on your win.  And on your amazing theatrical performance.”

        “Thanks.  I worked quite hard to get it just right tonight,” I say, and now I’m laughing, too.  Genuinely laughing.  I give her a little bow, my fingers brushing hers as our bottles tap on my way up.  A ribbon of heat unfurls inside my hand, moving up my arm.

        God, I want to touch this girl.  I want to put my hands on her and kiss her hard and make her laugh.

        We hold our bottles like that for a beat too long.  My gaze latches onto Rachel’s and doesn’t let go.  She’s feeling it, too—this energy, this attraction between us.

        “You’re staring,” she says with a smile.

        “Can’t help it,” I say.  “Sorry.”

        “Why are you sorry?”

        “Because I hate when people look at me like…like I’m a piece of meat, I guess.”

        “I don’t feel like a piece of meat right now.”

        “No?  Good.  What do you feel like?”

        “Like…I don’t know.”  She gives a little shrug.  “Like I’m having fun with a really tall, really cute dude at an otherwise lame party.”

        I grin.  “It is quite lame, isn’t it?  And here I believed I was the only one who thought that.”

        “Of course it’s lame.  I mean, it’s amazing, but also lame.  It all seems kinda fake, I guess—the schmoozing, the fancy champagne.”  Rachel shrugs again.  “I’m having more fun with you than I would be mingling with everyone else, that’s for sure.”

        This girl—it’s like she’s reading my bloody mind.

        Which she can’t actually do, thank God, or she’d know I am currently fantasizing about having her in my flat, naked, her eyes closed as my fingers between her legs, her mouth open, her pussy pulsing.  She’d pant, make these little breathless noises.

        The head of my dick presses against the fly of my jeans.  I close my eyes, take a deep breath.

        “You okay there, killer?” Rachel asks.

        “Yes,” I grunt.

        She laughs.  “That’s the least convincing ‘yes’ I’ve ever heard.”

        I open my eyes and look at her.  Jesus, she’s pretty.  Lit up.

        It’s weird, but something about her laugh reminds me of home.  There’s always laughter in my parents’ house; my ribs ache for days after I spend a holiday at home with my siblings and their significant others and my parents.  I miss that.

        We sip our beers.  Rachel smacks her lips and lets out a sigh of satisfaction.  “That’s delicious.”

        “You like it?” I meet her eyes.  The irises are so dark they almost fade into the pupils.  Almost, but not quite.

        “I love it.  It’s different—tastes like a wheat beer, which is probably my favorite.”

        “I’m glad.  These Bavarian beers can be a bit of an acquired taste.”  I take another sip.  “So, the sports thing—are you planning to play tennis professionally?  Maybe go into sports management or something like that?”

        “I’d really like to go into sports medicine, actually,” she says, setting her beer on the counter.  “Maybe physical therapy or something like that.  As a matter of fact, I had a phone interview for an internship at the Meryton University athletic department right before the match.”

        “That’s brilliant,” I say, and I mean it.  I never doubted her sincere interest in sports, but I adore just how much she obviously loves them.  “How did it go?”

        She shrugs again.  “I’m trying not to get my hopes up.  But it’d be really awesome if I got that internship.  My ultimate goal would be to work for a sports franchise—a team like yours—but working at the athletic department is a great way to get my foot in the door.”

        “You know,” I say, my heart skipping a beat, “if you want a tour of our team’s training facility, all you have to do is ask.”

        “Yeah, right, I’ll just ask for a tour of the training facility that belongs to the world’s most valuable sports franchise.  The facility that’s more closely guarded than the Pentagon.  No big deal,” she says.

        “Rachel, it’s really not a big deal.”  She meets my eyes when I use her name.  “If you want a tour, I can make it happen.  Easy.  I’ll ask the club medical staff to show you the ropes.  Might give you a better sense of what you’re looking for?  The club just built a new medical facility that is bonkers, and we’ve got a couple doctors on staff, plus fitness coaches, physios, even a sports psychologist.  A bit of everything, really.”

        She blinks a couple of times.  Looks away.  Looks back up at me, her hair falling into her face.  “Seriously?  You’d do that?”

        “Of course.  You’re in Madrid, for Christ’s sake, so you might as well do it while you’re here.”

        “Wow,” she says, pulling her hair back.  “I don’t know what to say.  Thank you.  This is huge for a lot of reasons—I’m heading back to the states in, like, less than a month, and if I hadn’t talked to you tonight…just.  Wow.  I’m the luckiest freaking person on the planet.  Thank you.”

        I grin.  “Not sure if you saw how great I looked on the pitch tonight—”

        “Now you’re just bragging,” she says, rolling her eyes.

        “I am.  But the squad really, really likes me at the moment, and they’ll do pretty much anything to keep me happy.  I’d love an excuse to exercise some of that muscle, especially on behalf of a mate’s friend.  The tour would be asking a small favor, nothing more.”

        “Small favor?  Fred, I can’t tell you how many sports medicine internships I’ve secretly applied to without ever hearing a peep back.”

        “Secretly?”  Now I’m intrigued.

        Rachel waves me away.  Her eyes change.  They’re sad, I think.  Sad or hurt. “Long story.”

        “How does Wednesday sound?  I’ll arrange everything, and I can send my driver round to pick you up.”

        She blinks.  “You have a driver?”

        “I do.  I usually drive myself around, but it’s always nice to have someone on call.”

        “Uh.  Wow.  Sorry, sorry, I know I keep saying wow, but this whole thing is just—I mean.  Wow!  I’m speechless.  Wednesday works for me.”

        I smile.  So does she.  Bloody hell, that smile.  “Great,” I say.

        “Great,” she says.

        I try to tamp down on the pulse of warmth low in my belly, between my legs.  I want to touch this girl, take her home, but I can’t.

        Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I haven’t fooled around with girls casually before.  I’m not a monk.  But every time I’d get physical with a girl without any intention of seeing her again, I’d just end up feeling empty.  Lonelier than before.  Used, even as I felt like I was using her.

        I’m done with that shit.  I’ve been done with it for a while now.  Rachel may not have said outright she doesn’t want to get serious with a guy, but she’s moving thousands of miles away in a month’s time.  There’s no way she’s looking for forever with someone in Spain.

        I am.  Which may explain why I’m twenty-two years old and still haven’t swiped my v-card.  Yeah, I’m not proud of it, but I suppose I’m an old-fashioned sort of bloke.  I want to fall in love before I have sex; fall for someone who will stick around for the long haul.  It just feels right, I suppose.

        At this point, I’ve waited a long time to lose my virginity—so why not lose it to someone special?  Someone who really means something to me?  I think sex is sacred.  It’s important I get it right.

        So…yeah.  As attracted as am I to Rachel, I’m not interested in a casual hook-up with her.

        With a sigh, I tug a hand through my hair.  I’ve been here before.  I’ve been attracted to girls who clearly weren’t my forever, and I managed to keep it in my pants then.  I can do it again.  The attraction fades.  It always does.

        But damn if that smile of hers doesn’t make me feel fucking awake and alive and, yeah, more than a little turned on.

Chapter 2

Rachel

Wednesday

       

        I’m so excited for my tour of Fred’s training facility I can hardly pay attention in my one and only class of the day.  But I have some work to do—exams are coming up—and the driver isn’t picking me up until later this afternoon.  So after class I run a few errands, then head for the Reina Sofía Museum.  I’m writing a paper on this gorgeous Herman Anglada Camarasa painting that hangs there.

        I peep the painting for a bit before sitting down to write in the museum café.  It takes me way longer than it should to get going on the paper.  Now I’m not only thinking about my tour, but I’m thinking about the cute, charming guy who made it happen—Fred Ohr, soccer star and all around stud.

        Athletes are my type, and not just because I’m an Exercise and Health Sciences major.  Fred is a big guy, with thick shoulders that taper into a slender but still well muscled torso (I may or may not have Googled shirtless pictures of him when I got home from the party).  I felt like a pixie next to him.

        I liked it.  Him.  I liked him a lot.  His sense of humor.  His generosity.  The way his blue-green eyes got all squinty when he smiled.

        I noticed him even before we were introduced.  He was standing off to the side, alone, nursing a beer.  I wouldn’t say he looked sad or anything.  I mean, the guy was getting plenty of attention from girls at that party.  But I definitely picked up on some loneliness there.  I’ve felt lost at parties, too—the old cliché of being in a room full of people but feeling lonelier than ever—so I could sympathize.

        I’d like to think he felt a little less lonely after our chat.  I sure as hell did.  I actually haven’t stopped thinking about how much fun I had, talking to him.

        How goddamn hot he was.

        My memory of how Fred looked is crystal clear.  He’s handsome, but in a way that’s totally different from the rest of the guys on his team.  Guys like Rhys Maddox, who, with their smoldering gazes and cheekbones and ridiculous Euro haircuts, could easily be underwear models.

        Fred is less classically good-looking, more square and masculine.  His blond hair is cropped close to his head, and he had it combed in a hipster schoolboy swoop to one side. He’s got a hockey player nose: a little too big for his face, a little crooked, too, like he’s broken it a couple times in epic fistfights with the losers who threw him into the boards.  He was dressed in jeans and a blue sweater he wore over a white button up.  Simple, nothing fussy, but still sexy.  I remember how freaking handsome he looked.

        I liked that he was different.  The other footballers were too much for me.  Too pretty, almost.

        I’m so distracted by the memory of his smile and the zing of warmth it sent through me that eventually I give up on my paper and check my email instead.

        My heart skips a beat when I see a note in my inbox from the athletic director at Meryton.

        The internship I’ve applied to—the one in sports medicine I really want—there’s news.

        My fingers shake as I guide the mouse across the screen.  I open the email, my eyes moving over the words faster than my brain can process them.

        You’ve made it to the final round of candidates…you will receive a call for one final phone interview…please provide proof you are able to find housing in the Durham area this summer…

        “Holy shit!” I say, loud enough to make the old Spanish dude beside me look up from his newspaper.

        I sheepishly offer him my apologies, then reread the email.  Oh my God oh my God oh my God I totally wasn’t expecting this to happen.  The internship is prestigious and highly competitive.  I didn’t think I’d even make it past the résumé stage, much less the final round.

        Wow.  Now that this sports medicine thing might really happen, I recognize how badly I want the internship.  The thought of getting it and working at the athletic department all summer long makes me so excited I can hardly sit still.  I want this.  I really, really want this to work out.

        Sports medicine combines two of my favorite things: sports (obviously) and science.  Mom wants me to channel my interest in science into a career being a superwoman surgeon like her, but over the years, I’ve seen how her job absolutely consumes her life.  How stressed and overwhelmed she always is.

        I’d like a career that offers at least a little more balance.  I want to work to live, as cheesy as that overused byline is, and not the other way around; I want there to be enough room in my life for things like travel.  Books.  Kids—lots of kids—and fun.  I’ve talked to several people—doctors, physical therapists, trainers—and from what I can tell, I have a much better chance of finding that balance in sports medicine than I do in cardiothoracic surgery (mom’s specialty).

        But I know how disappointed mom will be if I don’t go the surgeon route.  And if there’s one thing I really hate, it’s letting her and dad down.  They’ve just been so good to me.  They’ve worked so hard to make my dream of going to Meryton University come true.

        Probably why I haven’t told them I’m applying to sports medicine internships.  Just the thought of having that call with mom that makes my stomach hurt.

        I blink when an IM pops up at the bottom of my screen.

        It’s mom.  Of course.  My heart falls.  I don’t know why I’m surprised; she’s always had an eerie sixth sense of when to appear so she can burst my bubble.

        I left you a voicemail this morning, she types.  I’ve been waiting for you to call back—I heard from the head of the anesthesiology team. Said he may be able to get you in for some shadowing this summer.

        I stare at the screen.  I’ve shadowed doctors in mom’s hospital before, and I pretty much hated it every time.  I can’t imagine having to do that again instead of working at the athletic department.

        I also can’t imagine telling mom I’m passing up anesthesiology for sports medicine.

        Ugh.

        Something must be up with my phone—I didn’t get any voicemails today.  Weird.  I reply.

        Maybe you should get it checked out?  It would be a catastrophe if you missed a call about an internship opportunity.

        I roll my eyes.  Of course mom would use the word catastrophe.  Like my phone dropping a call is on scale with a category five hurricane.

        I’ll see what I can do, I type.

        You need to make a decision soon. Have you applied to the research group I told you about?  They are doing some great work with stents.  This summer is huge for you.  That’s when I interned at the CDC, remember?  And I met Dr. Zhu, who got me into Yale.

        Yes, I remember.  You tell me that story every time we talk.  Couldn’t forget it if I tried.

        You don’t need to get so snippy, you know, she says.  I’m only trying to help.  You have to do something with yourself this summer, and it’d better be amazing.  I’m not paying forty grand a year for Meryton for you to end up working at a gym. You can do so much better than that.

        I’m working my ass off trying to figure it out, trust me, I reply.

        But even as I type the words, a well-worn feeling—something like panic—makes me short of breath.  Two minutes ago, I was pretty sure about what I wanted.  I wanted to get my dream sports medicine internship.  I was so excited about checking out the training facility of the best soccer team in the world.

        Now I’m not so sure.  I’m not excited.

        I’m stressed.

        A familiar set of memories moves through my head like the slides on a projector.  Mom’s grinding frustration over not getting the promotion she wanted turning into a howl of joy the day I got into Meryton (her top pick for me); how the stress she wore like this giant, heavy overcoat every day would disappear if I came home with all As on my report card; how I distracted her from another fight with dad by telling her I’d take up violin, even though I so wasn’t into music or instruments or the creepy lady who taught orchestra.  She, however, was thrilled, mostly because she’d read somewhere that playing music helps increase your standardized test scores.

        My mother is not the happiest person in the world.  I recognize that.  But when I can make her happy—when I can make her proud—it’s the best feeling ever.

        I want to see mom happy more often.  I mean, duh, I love my mom.  She’s my mom.  But her bouts of happiness never seem to last, which leaves me scrambling for another accomplishment, another achievement to wave in front of her.  I keep thinking that maybe this will be the thing that tips the balance.  This semester’s GPA or this exam score or this internship will be the thing that finally keeps her happy.

        Doing this internship at the Meryton athletic department is definitely not that thing.  As great as it feels to make mom smile, I can only imagine how awful it’s going to be if I piss her off, or, worse, disappoint her.

        I mean, maybe I should be more worried about ending up at a gym, the work-life balance I’m looking for be damned—although, honestly, what’s wrong with working at a gym?

        Maybe I should be shadowing anesthesiologists; it’d look great on my med school application.  Maybe I am wasting mom’s hard earned money by not working harder.  I’m really, really lucky that I don’t have to worry about paying for college, and I definitely don’t want to be the kid that freeloads off her parents’ generosity.

        I’ve just been really busy getting ready for exams, I type.  I’ll get going on my summer plans once they’re over.

        All easy As, she replies.  At least this semester won’t be a total waste for you—those grades will help your GPA, and medical schools will love that.

        Right, I say.  That’s exactly why I came to Spain.  To boost my GPA.

        That’s my girl, mom types, clearly not picking up on my sarcasm.  I can’t wait for you to come home.  We can work on the essays for your applications together.  I already have some good ideas for the Yale essay—you know the one about rising to meet a challenge?  I figure you can talk about the research you did at the oncology center.

        I fall back into my seat with a heavy sigh.  When I think about pursuing mom’s route, I feel this surge of satisfaction at how thrilled and proud she’ll be of me if I do get into Yale.  But at the same time, my gut ties itself in knots.  It knows it’s not the path for me.  It tells me in no uncertain terms that I’m not going to be happy.

        Mom will be, though.  Maybe her happiness will be big enough and bright enough to keep me happy, too.  I don’t know.

        I do know that if I have to talk to mom for another second, I am going to fling myself down the nearest elevator shaft.

        Gotta run, I type.  Call you later.

        Good luck studying. Can’t wait to see those grades!

        I slam my laptop shut.  Shut my eyes, too, against the sudden sting behind my lids.  I swallow, hard, and take a deep breath.

        Today is a really great day.  I’m not going to let mom ruin it for me.  How often do I get to rub elbows with some of the best physical therapy professionals on the planet?  I’ll worry about my summer plans—and my future—later.

        I decided when I arrived in Spain that this would be my semester of YOLO.  And so far, I’ve done a pretty great job of living in the moment.

        This tour will be no exception.  I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it.  After that—who knows?  Maybe I’ll get lucky and enjoy the hell out of Fred, too.

***

        My heart is pounding as the driver—Fred sent a guy in a ridiculous giant black Mercedes to pick me up from school—glides through security at the gate to the football club’s training facility.  I wasn’t kidding when I said the place is guarded like the Pentagon; there are fences and cameras everywhere; there’s a guardhouse, even a couple security officers patrolling the perimeter.  I knew Fred’s team was a big deal in Spain, but it’s hitting me just how huge this whole operation is.

        And how famous.  A couple minutes ago, we turned off the highway and took an unmarked, one lane road that wound through a mile or two of arid countryside before the giant training facility came into view like a spaceship that landed in the middle of nowhere.  My driver explained that the facility “must remain hidden” so that fans and the media, and even rival football clubs, can’t get a glimpse of the players as they train.  It’s like their tactics are a closely guarded national secret or something.

        I shiver.  This is wild—the fact that I’m here.

        Wild, and really exciting.

        The driver makes his way through an orderly parking lot packed with brand new Range Rovers and sports cars with blacked out windows.  I wonder which one is Fred’s.  I don’t know him, not well, but I get the feeling he wouldn’t drive anything quite so flashy.  Just doesn’t feel like Fred—he’s more understated than that.

        Finally the driver pulls up to the medical facility, all glass and gleaming angles, and hurries to open my door.

        Thanking him, I make my way to the entrance.  I catch a glimpse of one of several practice pitches just off to the side of the building.  It’s a cold day, a little before three o’clock; the sky is clear but already darkening, the blue tinged with purple.  A couple guys are out on the field, running some pretty brutal looking drills.  I can faintly make out shouts, a bark of laughter.  I look for Fred’s tall, well-muscled figure, but I don’t see him.

        My heart falls.  He didn’t say if he’d be here or not today, but I secretly hoped he would be.

        I hope he’s here.  I really do.  He still has my coozie, for one thing, and for another, I’d like to thank him—with dinner, maybe? a drink?—for putting this whole thing together.  He doesn’t know me, and he didn’t have to help me out.  But he did, and I want to show my appreciation.

        I’d also like to make out with him, pretty badly.  It could be totally one-sided, but the attraction I felt between us practically sizzled.  I’m getting tingles just thinking about it.

        I head inside the training facility, and I’m immediately greeted by a cute woman, forty, maybe forty-five, in a snazzy Madrid tracksuit.  Her name is Valentina, and she is the first team physiotherapist—meaning she works with the best players on the team to prevent and rehabilitate injuries.

        Valentina doesn’t speak great English, so I get to practice my Spanish as she gives me a tour.  She’s warm, friendly, and very funny; she answers all my idiot questions patiently.  I have a lot of them.  Like, a lot.  Probably because I’m so enthralled by everything I see and everything she says I can hardly stand it.

        We start in the training facility’s main building, a gargantuan complex that is as big as a mall.  Maybe even bigger.  It’s sick.  Not only is there an Olympic-sized pool; there are actual treadmills and stationary bikes in the water.  We pass through an enormous gym, an indoor running track, two weight rooms, massage therapy rooms, saunas and steam rooms, and a mod, chic-looking cafeteria.  Everything is new and clean and state of the art.

        My head is on a swivel.

        Players greet Valentina as they pass us.  She asks one guy about his knee; she promises to help another with his hamstrings.  She turns to me, eyes lit up, and for the next twenty minutes tells me all about hamstrings and how to rehabilitate them and how to keep from hurting them and how they work.  Her delight is infectious; as her smile grows, so does mine, even though I don’t understand half of what she’s saying.

        How different she is from my grim-faced mother, who wears the weight of the world on her shoulders as she charges down the halls of her hospital.

        We head into one of a dozen physiotherapy treatment rooms, where Valentina introduces me to Dr. Jimenez, the club doctor, and Sebastián, the player whose ankle Dr. Jimenez repaired after Seb took a nasty spill a few months back.  They let me watch as Dr. Jimenez checks everything out; after, Valentina and Seb put together a list of exercises and stretches, cracking dirty jokes in Spanish as they go.

        After that, Valentina and I pore over her schedule in her office—she’s filling me in on what her typical day looks like.  It seems she’s got a pretty great work-life balance; she seems to have time for both work and play.  She says with two kids and a husband who also works that it’s not easy, and some days are absolute hell.  But for the most part, she enjoys her time at the facility and at home.  Her job is interesting and challenging.  She knows she is part of something bigger, something important.

        I don’t know Valentina well, but I can just tell she’s a happy person.  It radiates from her.  She is patient and kind.  She lights up when she talks about her kids, her work, her husband.

        This—finding this kind of life—this is what I want.  My own version of this kind of contentment.  Of balance.

        If I could just find the courage to go after it, instead of towing the line and doing what mom wants me to do.

        I’m asking Valentina about her post-graduate path when a familiar voice sounds at the door.

        “Enjoying yourselves, ladies?”

        I start, my pulse leaping as I look up.  Fred.

        He fills the doorway, leaning a hip against the jamb.  He’s still in his practice clothes—black compression tights underneath shorts, a sweatshirt, gloves, cleats covered in grass—sweaty and huge and smiling.

        It’s like a bullet straight to the chest.  I grab onto the edge of Valentina’s desk, hoping my legs don’t buckle as I meet his eyes.  I can smell him from here.  Soap, something simple but clean, cut with an edge of sandalwood.

        Heaven help me.

        I am attracted to Fred.  Very, very attracted.

        “Hello, Fred,” Valentina says in heavily accented English before switching to Spanish.  I am having fun showing Rachel around.  I can tell she likes it here.

        “Hey,” I manage.

        “You came,” he says, his eyes getting all squinty with pleasure.

        “This place—it’s pretty incredible, Fred,” I say.  “Thank you.  Seriously.  I can’t thank you enough.”

        “My pleasure.”  I love his weird little accent, his words flavored with a bit of German, a bit of British, too.

        He glances at Valentina.  “Are you done with Rachel yet?  I don’t want to rush you…”

        “She is very much yours now, yes?” Valentina says with a knowing grin.  She kisses my cheeks.

        Come back anytime, Rachel, she says in Spanish.  If you’re interested, we have a formal internship program you can apply to for the spring.  It is very competitive, but also a fantastic opportunity.  You are always welcome here.  Mostly because I’ve never seen Fred smile like that.

        Color creeps into Fred’s face as he laughs.  Man he’s cute.  Hot.  Huge.  He is all those things, and it is all I can do not to stare.

        He tilts his head.  “Come on, then, Rachel.  There’s something I’d like to show you.”

 

Top 5 Wednesday: Future Classics

This weekly meme is created by Lainey of Ginger Reads Lainey and with its new host, Sam of Thoughts on Tomes . You can check out the weekly topics on the Top 5 Wednesday – Goodreads Page. This week’s topic is about books that I think can be future classics. 🙂

  • Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – Without any doubt, this is my top answer. haha
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – This introduced me to my all time favorite badass heroine: Lisbeth Salander. She’s a misfit in the society, a professional hacker and a protector. She hates misogynists and if anyone pulls out a weapon, she’ll get a bigger weapon than yours. I admire this woman very much.
  • Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer – This Saga might got you into reading / brought back your reading mojo. It was a sensation back when I was in High School and I owe this series for a reason.
  • Easy by Tammara Webber – One of the best pilot NA books I’ve read along with Slammed by Colleen Hoover, and The Edge of Never by J.A. Redmerski. The story was captivating and romantic. You’ll also learn something here to prevent abuse. It’s handled really good.
  • Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen –  The most relatable YA / MG book ever. An innocent puppy love story that I adore up to this day. I’m forever obsessed with this. Both book and movie.

 

What are the books that you think should be a future classic novel/series? Let me know on the comments. 

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