Thank you all for the amazing questions!! You guys are fabulous!! I’ll be drawing a winner over the next few days (I have to count the entries, including the ones on Goodreads, but then eliminate any dupes, and then run a random number generator … it’s not as easy as with a Rafflecopter. Sorry.)
But good news! My editor said I could post a short excerpt of Breathless! Just to change things up, this is from the middle, not the beginning.
Here goes nothin’…
Nick knew what was expected when girls started crying: a hug, a minute or two of listening, a minute or two to offer some soothing words, and a wry smile followed by the suggestion that they find some chocolate. Or ice cream. Or both.
Much like the accounting, he could do it in his sleep.
But Quinn didn’t even let him get to the hug. She jerked her hands away from him and swiped the dampness from her eyes, then stood. “God. Next time I start to do that, smack me or something.”
“Sure. Sounds perfectly socially acceptable.” He paused. “You okay?”
She pulled her ponytail free and started to retie it. “I hate when they make me do that.”
“I was shooting for a more specific list of people.”
She turned away from him. “I don’t think the cheerleading thing is going to work out.”
“Did something happen?”
“Your brother was right.”
Sometimes she jumped between topics until Nick couldn’t keep track of what she was talking about. It probably made most people nuts, but it was one of the things he liked best about her—nothing was expected. “Which brother?”
She gave him a look. “Gabriel. I am too fat to be a cheerleader.”
Sometimes his twin could be a real ass. “Quinn—you’re not fat.”
“You’re right. I’m sure they were calling me Crisco because I make great cookies.”
Damn. He let out a breath. “But you’re not—”
“I really don’t want to talk about this.”
“You want to talk about what happened with your mom?”
“Hell, no.” She jammed the iPod into the side pocket of her bag.
When she straightened, he caught her waist and tossed her into the air. She gasped, but he caught her and held her up, his hands braced on her rib cage. “I couldn’t do this with a fat girl.”
And okay, he probably could. Landscaping wasn’t light work, and he was used to slinging bags of pea gravel and limestone. Quinn was no feather, but his biceps weren’t screaming at him, either.
Quinn glared down at him. “Put me down before you lose your hands in the rolls.”
“Oh, stop it. You’re not fat. You’re solid.” She was, too. Her calves sported clear definition, and he could feel the strength in her abdominal muscles.
“That’s what every girl wants to hear, Nick. That she’s solid.” She wiggled. “Put me down.”
He lifted her higher, until his arms were straight. “I will when you quit with the pity party.”
“Or when I knee you in the face.”
A knock sounded at the door frame. “You guys mind if I work in here?”
Nick glanced over. A young man stood there, in knee-length cutoff sweatpants and a red T-shirt. He looked vaguely familiar, like maybe Nick had seen him around school or something. Brown eyes, dark, unkempt hair that was just this side of too long on top, caramel skin. An easy smile with a shadow of unease behind it. Then again, maybe that was just the scar on his upper lip, the drawn skin making the smile a little crooked and dark at the same time.
“Come on in,” said Quinn. “We were just goofing off.”
Oh. Right. Quinn.
Nick set her down.
Quinn obviously knew the guy, because she gave him a one-armed hug. “I haven’t seen you around here lately.”
He shrugged. “Work, school, dance. The holy trinity. You know.” Then his eyes flicked to Nick. “New partner?”
“Not the way you mean,” Quinn said. “He’s not a dancer. Adam, this is Nick.”
Adam. The name fit him like a chord strummed on a guitar.
Nick couldn’t stop staring at him.
But Adam didn’t seem to notice. He just ducked his head through the shoulder strap and dropped his bag by the mirror. It should have been a throwaway motion, but instead there was a lyrical quality to his movement, like music flowed in his head. “I thought you might have been working on lifts,” he said.
“Nah,” said Nick. “Just a reality check.”
Quinn elbowed him in the ribs. “What are you working on?”
Adam pulled an iPod and a little player with speakers out of his bag. “An audition piece. There’s an opening at the dance school downtown.”
Quinn clapped. “Can we watch?”
Adam glanced at Nick. “I don’t want to bore your friend.”
“I wouldn’t be bored,” Nick said quickly. Then he checked himself. What was with the sudden enthusiasm? He shrugged. “I watch Quinn all the time.”
A slow smile found Adam’s mouth. “Sure, then. Find a place to sit.”
Nick sat against the wall at the back of the studio, and Quinn sat beside him, a good six inches of space between them. She pulled her sweatshirt into her lap and ripped the cap off a bottle of water. Nick had initially expected her to be one of those clingy girls who wanted to drape on his shoulder—but she never did.
Another reason he liked her.
Adam hit a button on the iPod, and music swelled through the small studio. Nick knew the song, one of those new lyrical R&B collaborations. The rhythm pulsed through his body and caught his heartbeat, the way music always did. It probably had something to do with the way sound waves traveled through the air—it always felt like he could hear with his whole body.
But the air liked Adam, too, liked the way he leaped across the floor and defied gravity, each movement timed perfectly with the beat.
Nick had never wanted to be a dancer, but right now, he felt a flash of envy. And admiration. And—and something—
“What do you think?” Quinn whispered.
“He’s good. Great. The dance. It’s great.” God, what was wrong with him? He rubbed at the back of his neck and pretended to stare at the floor. “It’s fine.”
“He’s super talented. He’s been trying to get in that school for two years, but he needs a scholarship.”
Nick heard longing in her voice and turned to look at her. “Do you wish you could go there?”
She kept her eyes on Adam and shrugged one shoulder. “I could never get in.”
“Have you tried?”
Quinn cut angry eyes his way. “I’d need a scholarship, too, Nick, and they’re not exactly writing checks to everyone who walks through the door.”
He’d grown up countering his brothers’ anger—and Quinn had nothing on that. He didn’t look away. “Have you tried?”
She sat there glaring at him, and Nick just looked back.
The music cut off suddenly, and they both jerked to attention.
Adam was fiddling with the music player. “It’s driving me crazy,” he said, almost to himself. “It’s missing something, but I can’t figure out what.”
“A partner,” said Nick without thinking.
Adam’s hands went still on the iPod, and he looked over.
Nick shrugged a little, wondering at what point his brain had decided to disengage from his mouth. “Sorry. Just thinking out loud.”
Adam smiled again, that slow smile that pulled a little crooked because of the scar. His dark eyes shined in the overhead lights, and his voice was just a touch suggestive. “You volunteering?”
The breath rushed out of Nick’s chest.
Shit. Now he was blushing.
If Gabriel were here, there would be no end to the mockery.
Well, that shut it down, whatever it was. Flustered, Nick shoved Quinn in the shoulder. “No,” he growled. “Quinn is.”
“What?” said Quinn, sounding like she wondered when Nick had lost his mind. “I’m not good enough to dance with him.”
“Sure you are,” said Adam. He walked across the studio and stuck out a hand to Quinn.
But his eyes were on Nick. Nick wasn’t even looking at him, but he could feel it.
He just wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about it.
Nick nodded at the floor, then looked at Quinn. “Stop doubting yourself. Give it a try.”
She let Adam pull her to her feet, and Nick was glad they were moving away. Adam’s presence left him doubly off balance somehow, like trying to walk a narrow beam during an earthquake.
Adam and Quinn were talking now, going through the choreography or the music or whatever. Nick had no idea. His brain could barely process the conversation.
No, his thoughts kept replaying the moment two minutes ago.
He wasn’t offended. He wasn’t shocked. He was—
Nick shut that thought down before it could finish. His life was already complicated enough. He and his brothers were marked for death. They were ostracized by the Elemental community. Nick knew exactly what was expected of him: good grades, hard work, and the occasional girlfriend. He knew how to handle all three, could do it blindfolded.
But that stray thought had weaseled its way into the back of his head, lodging there so firmly that he couldn’t ignore it.
For the tiniest fraction of a second, when Adam had looked down at him, asking about volunteering, Nick had wondered what would have happened if he’d said yes.