Page 51

“It kinda was this horrible miscommunication, but we’ve all grown on each other. Sort of like a clam and two shells.”

“I’ll say.” Nacho had overheard. He pointed at me. “I love clams. They look like dicks. And you guys haven’t lived until you’ve tasted this girl’s cooking. She does a full pizza buffet that’s out of this world. I don’t know what you’re going to school for, Dusty, but you should be going for culinary school. You could be one of those Michelob chefs.”

Dent burst out laughing, holding his sides. “It’s Michelin chefs. Michelin. Not the beer, you dumbass.”

“I’m not the dumbass thinking a starting defensive lineman is going to do keto on his off season.”

Dent stopped laughing. Frowned. And shot to his feet. “What? You were lying the whole time?”

“I was messing with you, not lying.”

“You fuckhead.” He stalked off, going into the house. Lisa called after him, but he ignored her. She frowned, holding a beer, but turned back to the group she’d been talking to.

“He gets so worked up about everything.” Nacho was now griping, but he stood and was going after him.

Lisa said something to him, too, and he only gestured into the house. She sent me a frown, wavering, then came over. She moved to the edge of the table where I was. The rest of the conversation halted. That’s just what happened when these guys approached. Lisa didn’t notice, her eyes only on me. “Those two fight or something?”

“Nacho was gonna do the keto thing. Dent believed him. Got upset when he found out it was a joke.”

Lisa rolled her eyes. “He’s so sensitive sometimes.” She migrated back over to her group, sipping on her beer the whole time.

I didn’t recognize the others at the table besides Joe, Cammie, and Ben.

Joe groaned, hunching over the table. “I shouldn’t be here. I’m a grad student and I manage the Quail. I should go, be irresponsible somewhere else.”

Ben grinned at him. “Or maybe you should stick around, see if you can get lucky?”

Ben held his beer up over the table. He said as Joe clinked it with his, “That’s the way to go, man. It’s only Homecoming once a year, and we blew the Stallions out of the water this year. We should celebrate.”

Cammie was watching the two, her own faint grin tugging at her lip. “Look at you both, bonding and having a good time.”

Ben nodded, saluting her with his beer. “Thanks for the invite.” He scanned the backyard. “I know Catanna from school, but she’s never invited me to one of these parties.”

Cammie gestured to me. “Don’t thank me. Thank our hookup here.”

“That’s not me. The guys were just at the bar and said, “Everyone head over.””

She laughed. “Right, because the last time they did that, staff were included in the invite?”

I had no idea.

Joe leaned closer to me, the four of us pulling in to form our own group at the table. “They’ve never done this. I’m older than everyone here, but even I’ve heard about the infamous ‘football house’ parties.” At my confused look, he clarified, “This is the football house, not because the actual team lives here, but because most of the team are always hanging out here. You’ve got connections, girl.” He whistled, leaning back. “And you basically lied at your job interview.”

“I have no connections.”

The door was shoved open, slamming against the side of the house. It was loud enough that everyone paused in their conversations and looked over. Wyatt was there. He was looking, and seeing me, he waved. “Dusty Girl, come here! We just got back from the grocery store.”

I groaned, but I stood up. “You think if you buy the materials, your personal chef will come?”

He barked out a laugh as I walked up the patio steps. His arm came down around my shoulder and he walked with me inside. “There’s our awesome little funny chef, making a Field of Dreams reference. We could do with a few more.”

Noel and Savannah were unpacking the groceries.

I murmured, “Just call me James Earl Jones.” But even though I was grumbling, I spied the fresh cilantro and arugula, and I was already thinking about some fancy Mexican recipes. I nudged Wyatt’s side before he dropped his arm. “Tell me the truth. You guys only like me because I can cook a mean meal, right?”

I started laughing, but he saw the look on my face and sobered up real quick. “You serious?”

“Nah.” I was.

Wyatt went back to smiling from ear to ear and he squeezed my shoulders, leaning down so his chin touched my shoulder. “Whatever you make, we will worship. You’re the Boss, Dusty Girl.” He squeezed my shoulders once more before holding out his hand and half-burping, “Beer me.”

A beer materialized from the crowd and was placed in his hand.

He winked at me before leaving. “God. I love this place.”

He was already gone when Savannah and Noel finished unpacking everything. They paused next to me. Noel was reaching inside the fridge and pulling out a beer for both of them when Cammie came in, pushing her way through the crowd. She ducked her head, putting a strand of her hair behind her ear that was already there, and she seemed to shrink in size somehow. A hand resting on the counter, she waved with her other one. “Hi. I work with Blue.”

Savannah looked at the beer in Cammie’s hand.

Cammie’s laugh hitched up a note. She put her beer on the counter before rubbing her hand over her pants to dry it. She lifted it back for Savannah. “Sorry about that. Cammie again.” Her cheeks were pinking.

I’d never seen Cammie like this.

She was the picture of cool, calm, and confident. And she was gorgeous, just as beautiful as Mia or Savannah. But Savannah glanced at me. Noel took a step back, the fridge shutting, and he leaned a hand on the counter behind her. He was letting her run the show.

As if she needed a second to weigh the options, she put her hand in Cammie’s, shaking it. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m one of Dusty’s roommates.” She couldn’t pull her hand away quick enough, and inclined her head toward me. “Blue?”

“’Cause you know.” I flicked my own hair back over my shoulder, going back to grabbing a bowl to wash the cilantro in. “So, who wants to help chop some tomatoes?”


Ben had come in, standing beside her.

“Oh!” Her eyes were wide. “We were going to take off. Joe left. Ben said he’d give me a ride home. You working tomorrow?”

I shook my head. “It’s a study day for me, all day.”

“Joe wouldn’t put you on the schedule seven days in a row.”

I griped. “You’d think he’d want to. I’m way better than Moore.”

Ben grimaced. “I was worried he was going to send her to work the boxes today.”

Cammie flicked her eyes up. “You were better than Moore before you were even a waitress, and if you’re not working tomorrow, I’ll see you Tuesday. I’m off on Monday.” She nodded to Savannah and Noel. “It was nice officially meeting you guys.”

She and Ben both held up a hand as they left, returning through the back door again.

Savannah helped with the food. Noel helped her help with the food. Lisa. Mia and Wyatt. Nacho and Dent. They all came to the kitchen, wandering in. They formed a casual-looking wall to keep everyone out and gave us a pocket of normalcy within the raging party.

Once the food was done, I did what I usually did.

I scooped up a small plate for myself, setting everything out for everyone else. I cooked. They cleaned up. That was the deal, and this time when I slipped to the basement, put my food in the fridge down there, and headed to my room, I had a weird sense of familiarity.

I was starting to enjoy living here.

I was thinking about that when the basement door opened and footsteps hurried down the stairs. I figured it was Lisa heading to her room, but it wasn’t her who said my name. “Dusty.”

I turned back.

Siobhan stood there, her hand still on the railing, one foot on the ground and the other still on the last step. Her eyebrows were arched high, her mouth slightly opened, and then she closed it, her chest rising and falling. “Wow. Okay. I’m here. I didn’t…” She stepped down that last step, letting go of the railing. Her hands folded in front of her and she looked to the ground. “Trent’s roommate goes to the Quail a lot. He said you were working there now and I’ve been meaning to come in, say something, but I just haven’t. We were there tonight, actually trying to be normal college students. Heard the general invite, and here we are.”

“You got past my roommates.” I took a step toward her, indicating upstairs. “They keep the basement sectioned off for a reason.”

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.