Girls Are Players

 

Book#2 of The G.A.P. Series  

Jessica Norton is a villain in the body of a gorgeous, rich, college girl. She cheats, lies, plays with people’s feelings, and purposely breaks unsuspecting hearts to avenge a personal loss. She’s the kind of girl people love to hate—even if it’s just because she has it all. Except . . . she doesn’t have it all. What she wants most is the love of her high school sweetheart, Taylor Drennon, the guy who got away, the one who left without telling her why and caused all her bitterness.

Not surprisingly, Jessica’s evil has made her a pariah. Alone, without friends or Taylor’s love, her college life is a nightmare. She’s haunted by her own mistakes and drowning in lack of direction. Something needs to change. So when the first opportunity to turn her life around presents itself, she takes it. Home for Christmas break, Jessica runs into Taylor. His unexpected friendliness seems like an invitation to rekindle their love. Inspired by a drastic idea that will both distance her from her heinous reputation and pull her closer to Taylor, she decides to transfer to OSU where he attends under a football scholarship.

Confident she can regain his heart, Jessica reenters Taylor’s life with a splash. Failing to naturally lure him closer, she is then forced to rely on her old games and underhanded scheming. Though Jessica’s heart is in the right place, it is hidden from Taylor by her blunders. More than once their powerful chemistry takes control, leading Jessica to believe she’s winning. But, it’s a hot and cold affair, and she’s not the only one to blame for their stormy love. If Jessica can only coax Taylor into explaining why he doesn’t want her, maybe she could finally walk away from him for good, maybe she could finally be happy. *** Due to language and sexual situations this book is recommended for ages 17 and older ***

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Chapter 1

Heartache made me hollow and brought an echo that drove me close to madness. You’re alone. You’re alone. You’re alone. As if I didn’t know it, as if loneliness were a stranger to me. Heck, I was on a first name basis with the bitch. All those terrible things I’d done hadn’t been in vain. I’d successfully driven everyone away with my actions. Sometimes, I regretted my meanness, and the vengeful games I played while the infamous, man-hating club I’d put together during my freshman year at U.C. Irvine lasted. Other times, I thought people deserved it. If I suffered, it was only fair that others should, too. But there was no restitution. Handing out misery hadn’t gotten rid of my own. It had made me a pariah.

Everyone hated me. Maddie, who only months ago had been my best friend and roommate, couldn’t stand me anymore. Not after I tried to sabotage her relationship with Sebastian. Brandy, my new roommate, tolerated me. She tried to be nice and humor me, but she couldn’t hide her real feelings from me. Like Maddie, she was ready to shed her past, ready to forget she was ever a part of The Guys Are Props Club (affectionately known as G.A.P.) or ever knew its lunatic founder, Jessica Norton. While I was the G.A.P. president, they’d followed my orders like helpless sheep, breaking men’s hearts indiscriminately, and loving it, I might add. Now, they wanted to think I didn’t exist. Convenient.

At U.C. Irvine, being my friend now brought a stigma. When people saw me around campus, they turned the other way. The word about the club members leading guys on got around the block as if on steroids. Of course Maddie, Brandy and everyone else wanted nothing to do with me.

Then there were my parents. Don’t even get me started on them. Their constant, passive disappointment and disapproval. They couldn’t understand how their popular, most-likely-to-become-president teenage daughter had gone from all-that to a whole-lotta-nothing. What was worse, they couldn’t even face me about it.

But hey, that was all fine. I’ve never cared what anyone thinks about me. The entire world could hate me, and it would roll off me like water from a duck’s back. There was only one problem.

I hated myself.

I couldn’t stand who I’d become. A shame-faced nobody who hunched her shoulders when people pointed in her direction. A brooding girl with downcast eyes, who wandered aimlessly through life, hoping for someone to throw her a bone.

Pathetic. Simply pathetic. Something had to give. I just didn’t know what. I didn’t want to be stuck. I was supposed to grow up, to turn that promising teenager into a go-getter young woman, but no one gave me a handbook. I had no idea how I was supposed to accomplish that.

But the irony of this whole mess came in one small, tiny detail. This little thing that not even the word pathetic could address. You see, I was stuck—practically living in the past—because of nothing more transcendental than my ex-boyfriend. A guy for Pete’s sake!

Seriously, how fucked up is that?

My life sucked. I had no friendship, no romance, no family life, not even a career path. I was adrift in a hellish limbo where time stretched in weird ways, like the cheap waistband in a pair of Walmart-bought underwear. My past, present and future moved away from each other, then painfully snapped back together—so unexpectedly that sometimes I didn’t know when I was. Or who I was.

It was like being stuck in a room between two doors. Inside, where I stood, was my thick, unmoving present. Through the door on my left laid a vivid past and who I used to be. I spent a lot of time looking through that door and toward the unreachable yesterday that lived past the threshold. Through the door on my right supposedly existed a future and who I was supposed to become. I pretty much ignored that door.

One particular scene from my past paraded itself in front of that first door over and over again. Today—as I dozed off in first-class, flying home for Christmas break, my purse against the small window to serve as a pillow—my time-yoyo seemed to be in hyper-drive.

A cell phone vibrated against my cheek. My eyes were closed, and as I felt the annoying tingling on my face, they snapped open. I unwrapped my arms from around Taylor’s waist and looked up at him. We had been dancing.

His silver-gray eyes went wide, his face tense and expectant.

“It’s them!” I exclaimed. “Answer! Answer!”

Taylor’s hand rose to his shirt pocket, shaking a bit. He was waiting for important news, life-altering news. He rushed out of the den, pushing in between the other dancing couples, through a set of French doors, and onto the patio. I followed in his wake and held my breath as he pressed the iPhone to his ear. Taylor plugged his other ear with one finger. I watched his handsome face for the smallest changes in expression.

Inside, the party raged on. The slow tune we’d been dancing changed to a pump-your-fist, angry rock song. Our friends cheered and went wild. I shook my head, trying to clear the buzz from the two beers I’d had.

I twisted my hands together, waiting. Taylor’s face gave nothing away.

“Yes, sir,” Taylor said, his voice sounding deeper than normal. There was a pause. He blinked in slow motion, and I felt my heart shrink. It wasn’t the news he’d been expecting. I ached for him, knowing how important this was. Taylor lowered the phone and ended the call. His eyes seemed glazed, his face slack.

“Oh, baby,” I tried to console him, but what could I say? Everyone had been so certain he would get the scholarship. “Something else will—”

“I got it,” he said in a low, dumbfounded murmur. He sounded so far away, as if the phone call had abducted his mind away from Dallas and had left only the shell of his body.

“You mean they gave it to you? You’re going to OSU?” I wasn’t certain he hadn’t just gone catatonic and started speaking nonsense.

He nodded slowly and ran a large hand over cropped, light brown hair. He looked as stunned as if I’d just broken up with him, or worse—not as if he’d just received the good news he’d been anxiously awaiting for months.

My heart sped out of control. I slapped him on the shoulder, then jumped and wrapped my arms around his neck. “Oh my God! You idiot. You almost gave me a heart attack.”

Tears prickled the backs of my eyes, as my chest filled with a dozen different emotions. Everything was changing so quickly. We were graduating in a few weeks. We were going to college in only a matter of months. To college! I still couldn’t get over that. I wanted to go to California—somewhere without snow. I didn’t think I could take dreary, slouchy snowy days. But if Taylor was going to Ohio to freeze his tight ass to death, I would go with him.

“I’m so happy for you, baby,” I said, pressing my face against his warm neck, while his arms lay tense at his sides.

I clung to him for a few seconds, feeling unappreciated, like that silly macaroni Christmas ornament I made in kindergarten, the one my parents always hang in the back of the tree, behind all the fine crystal ones with our names written in golden scroll. Taylor’s arms remained stiff. They didn’t automatically wrap around me the way they normally did when I hugged him. But, of course, I forgave him. He was in shock. I had no doubt he was already worrying about how to live up to the expectations of being a college quarterback. Knowing him as well as I did, I knew that the second he hung up that phone, he started feeling the pressure. Poor thing!

Eventually, his hands found their way to my waist, though they lacked their familiar strength. I pushed away and kissed his lips softly. He barely responded. I caressed the side of his smooth, strong jaw and ran my fingers through his hair.

“Sweetheart, you’ll do great. You’ll be the best quarterback the Buckeyes have ever seen.” My voice was syrupy sweet. I could hear it myself. Maybe it was wrong to baby him, but it was hard to figure out what to say to him at moments like this. He was so macho when it came to football. He never talked to me about it beyond the bare essentials. I cheered him when he played, and that always seemed to be enough.

A frown etched his forehead. His sculpted, thick eyebrows drew together. Yep, babying was the wrong move. Okay, plan “B” then.

“We have to celebrate. We have to tell everyone!” I took his hand and started pulling him back inside. Good thing we were already at a party. That would make the celebrating part a lot easier. There was plenty of booze, snacks, good music, and empty bedrooms upstairs. A little celebratory love-making never hurt anyone, and it would help him stop worrying, at least for a little bit.

Taylor didn’t budge. He stood cemented on the patio floor, our hands linked as I pulled in one direction and he just stood there unmoving, all six-four, two hundred and twenty pounds of him. The man was stubborn, a petrified, beautiful god. Man, he looked so hot when he brooded.

“No,” he said, trying to sound stern. So cute! “Let’s . . .” he looked into the night, toward the trees in the back of the house. Moonlight fell on his face, highlighting his Greek nose. “Let’s go, I—I need to think. I—”

I rolled my eyes. “Sweetheart, there’ll be enough time for thinking later. Right now, it’s time to celebrate. There’s a time for everything, remember?” We had just heard the minister in our church go over this a few Sundays ago. Taylor would appreciate the fact that I had been paying attention. I tugged on his hand again and, still, he didn’t move.

Well, he might not have realized what he needed at the moment, but I did. He suffered from overthinking, and I was the balancing force to his too-logical, over-analytical brain. I let go of his hand and stepped back into the crowded den. Inside, it was darker than the moonlit patio. My eyes struggled to adjust. I saw dark shapes dancing, kissing couples pressed against the wall, cigarette embers glowing red. The pungent smell of sweat, weed and beer hit me as hard as the loud music did.

I cleared my throat and shouted at the top of my lungs. “Everyone, listen up!” Of course, no one listened. They were too busy dancing, making out, or getting high. Well, that wasn’t going to stop me. I climbed on the coffee table that had been pushed to the side to make room for dancing. Teetering on my four-inch heels for a couple of scary seconds, I pictured myself sprawled on the floor, legs up, hot-pink panties flashing everyone. I regained my balance and stretched to my full height, a proud six-two, thanks to my Manolo Blahniks.

Clapping my hands above my head, I said, “Guys, listen up. I have huge news.”

A few annoyed people turned my way. Sean, who was in charge of the music, was one of them.

“Cut the music, Sean,” I said, running a finger across my throat then covering my ears.

He looked at me as if I were the one who was high and not him. I glared, hands on my hips, making sure to convey just how much trouble he would be in if he didn’t do what I said. He wanted to go to senior prom with Shelley. I could make sure he didn’t get within a one-mile radius of her to even ask for a date, and he knew it.

After mouthing a curse word, he turned down the music. Several people protested, sounding like a bunch of whiny babies.

“What the fuck? Turn the music back up, Sean,” Gary growled. He was one of Taylor’s teammates, a huge defensive lineman with muscles like boulders.

“Now, Gary,” I said disapprovingly. His head swivelled on his massive neck, and his brown eyes did a double take when he noticed me standing on the coffee table.

“Listen up, guys,” I shouted, trying to tame all the murmurs that were starting to spread through the crowd. The room grew quiet with only the low thumping of a rap song on the huge speakers. A multitude of heads turned in my direction, and even in the dark room, I knew I had their attention.

“It’s just a little interruption to make a huge announcement,” I promptly added. I knew I wouldn’t hold their intoxicated brains captive for very long, so I took a deep breath and let the news out in one quick burst. “Taylor, our very own friend, classmate, and quarterback, just received a very important phone call. He was just offered a scholarship to play football for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Wooohoo!”

Gary was the first one to react. He might have been drunk, but this sort of news was sure to get through his meaty, intoxicated head.

He whooped like a tribesman. “Fucking A!”

Others joined in cheering and chanting the name of our high school team. Their chant rose and with it, the tips of my mouth lifted into a big smile. I danced a little jig and practically squealed with happiness. Taylor had done it. His biggest dream had come true. I was so thrilled for him. It isn’t every day that dreams come true for people, but today was one of those days. And it had happened to my Taylor, the love of my life.

“Where’s the lucky bastard?” Gary asked, looking around.

Still smiling, I turned toward the French doors expecting to see Taylor standing there, smiling up at me.

He wasn’t there.

“Um, he must be outside,” I said, feeling an uncomfortable coldness slip into my stomach for some odd reason. My smile felt frozen on my face, like an “Approved” sign stamped there by a negligent government employee. “I’ll get him.” I tottered as I tried to climb down from the table. Gary offered me one of his plate-size hands. I took it and managed a graceful descent.

I headed outside, still smiling. As soon as I stepped through the French doors out onto the patio, the music went back to a strident, head-banging rumble.

“Taylor,” I called out expectantly, just knowing he would be standing next to one of the huge white columns, leaning his wide, muscular back against it, sharing the good news with his parents over the phone.

Of course he wanted to talk to them first! Why hadn’t I thought of that? I walked around, looking for him. Crickets chirped. The outdoor furniture cast dark shapes onto the slate floor. I walked further away from the house, searching behind every column, hoping—even when that coldness in my stomach turned into a full-blown blizzard—that he hadn’t left.

But he had. My boyfriend was gone.

I think I knew then—under the beautiful, mocking rays of the full moon—that I had lost him, that for some reason, Taylor had stopped loving me. That was what the strange chill in my gut had been trying to tell me. His love ended that night, but it took a lot more time and pain for me to finally understand it.

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