Excerpt from One Little Problem

Here’s a sample from the beginning of One Little Problem, available on June 16 and for pre-order now.

Ryan

OH WOW, MY LIFE IS SO TERRIBLE BUT AT LEAST THERE’S A HOT GUY TO LOOK AT WHILE EVERYTHING GOES TO HELL. ALSO, I’M A SPAZ.

Just figured I’d put that out there. Draw people into my story, make my life relatable and not totally perfect because who wants to read about someone who’s got everything and having the time of their life? Well, hopefully someone is interested in that… I certainly am.

Because, yeah, my life rocks. But don’t go anywhere! It didn’t always rock. I used to have only one friend and everyone hated me because I was the lone out gay kid in this Midwestern conservative farming town, which was totally  unfair because if they actually got to know they’d see I have several other qualities that others might call annoying, but I called charming, and hate me for those instead. But no, they didn’t even take the time to hate me for who I am, so rude.

There was just me and my one friend Alicia and my dad and I had no love life, no life of any kind. But then Luke Chambers came into my life and now? Things were pretty good now.

“Okay, okay, okay,” I said, holding my hands up to stop Luke from talking more even though he might not have a clear view of that because he was driving. “I refuse to be associated with Post Malone in any way.” I felt very strongly about that; it was a matter of principal.

This was very serious business. The last Big Relationship Decision—or Luke and Ryan Being Disgusting as our friends called it; our friends were tools—was deciding nicknames. Now we needed a song. Why? Because relationship. That’s why.

“What about the new Jonas Brothers song?” I asked Luke.

Luke didn’t even think about my suggestion. “Even you aren’t that gay,” he joked, keeping his eyes on the road. He was driving, I wasn’t, so I happily put my eyes on him. He wore a blue t-shirt that hugged his shoulders, and his aftershave smelled woodsy and intoxicating.

He was gorgeous, but I glared at him anyway. “How dare you imply there are limits to my gayness?”

“You’re right,” he conceded. “My mistake.” He looked over at me for a moment with a goofy smile that showed off his dimples.

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WIP

I’m working on the third installment of the One More Thing series… what is the third part of something called, a threequel? Probably not. Anyway, here is a small excerpt from the book, One Little Problem. I don’t think any context is needed, it’s just the protagonists snaking with each other, as is their way.

Luke didn’t even think about my suggestion. “Even you aren’t that gay,” he scoffed, keeping his eyes on the road. He was driving, I wasn’t, so I happily put my eyes on him. He wore a blue t-shirt that hugged his shoulders, and his aftershave smelled woodsy and intoxicating.

He was gorgeous, but I glared at him anyway. “How dare you imply there are limits to my gayness?”

“You’re right,” he conceded. “My mistake.” He looked over at me for a moment with a goofy smile that showed off his dimples.

(Abridged) 20 Questions

This is an excerpt from my YA M/M romance called Like You a Latte.

Owen sat up straight in his chair and met my gaze with a forceful look. Oh boy, I prepared for a doozy. Something deep and philosophical maybe. Or something incredibly invasive and personal. He took a breath and then asked, “Glass half empty or full?”

At the very least, I was expecting some stoner paradox. I saw a 4/20 pin on his apron one day. If Chuck Norris can beat everyone, could he beat Chuck Norris? I didn’t know whether this was an improvement on that question or not.  “Do you want more time to think of a question?” I asked him.

“I’m the one asking now,” he told me primly. “Kindly answer.”

There was probably a mathematical equation to figure it out. Find the circumference of the glass and then- “I’d have to see the glass,” I told him once I spent a few seconds pondering it.

Owen nodded. “Chicken or egg?” he asked next.

I blinked at him. “Which is my preference?”

“Which came first?” he clarified. There wasn’t a way to win this game the way we were playing it, but he was definitely losing. And it was his choice to go easy on me and not ask anything personal but that didn’t mean I had to do the same.

The chicken or the egg. Just as trivial as glass half empty or half full. Simple at least. “Scientifically—”

“Journey or destination?” He cut me off to ask.

“I didn’t get to answer the second question fully,” I protested.

“Trust me,” his tone sounded drier than the blueberry muffins on sale today, which wasn’t hard because they were very moist, but his tone was still pretty dry. “That one word was enough.”

“And you wasted your questions.” And again, not that this was a competition, but if it were, I would so totally be winning. I was going to kick his ass with my questions.

“No, I’m getting a pretty good idea of how you see the world.” He held up his hands in a frame shape as his eyes skated over me, like he was getting the full Spencer Sharp picture.

“Those questions told you something you didn’t already know?” If so, I might have to question my evaluation of his intellect.

“I’m confirming my hypothesis,” he said with a smirk. “Isn’t that something you smarty pants types care about?”

I suppose. Him saying hypothesis was mildly arousing. I shook it off. My turn to question him. “What’s your least favorite subject in school?” His favorite was English. Was he a thoroughly right brained person and hated math or did he have a proficiency but not interest in the numbers and sciences?

“No, you didn’t answer my last one yet. Journey or destination?” He rested a hand on his chin and looked at me expectantly, like he was dying to know the answer.

Oh, well that was simple. “Destination, obviously.” The journey was the necessary steps you had to take in order to complete your goals. An equation. A formality. The instructions. Or the recipe. But the point wasn’t about how to make a pie, it was about eating the pie.

Owen rolled his eyes but smiled as he said, “Obviously.”

I understood as I wanted to roll my eyes too as I said, “And you disagree obviously.”

While I still maintained his questions were stupid, this was fun and lighthearted, exactly what I needed. Maybe that was why he didn’t ask anything difficult. He was good at reading people. He had that thing I used to think was made up, but I’ve since come to terms with me just not having it, emotional intelligence.

“You never told me your least favorite subject,” I said.

“Spanish,” he answered.

Hmm, that was another right brained discipline. Fascinating. “Interesting,” I mused.

“I don’t like the teacher,” he elaborated.

“Fair enough.” I thought about another question. “Hogwarts house?” I could be whimsical sometimes.

“Okay, I’m happy to answer but maybe not now.” He waved a hand. “That’s a whole thing. A big discussion. We’ll have to devote a different night to it.” He looked excited about it. Him taking the house he’d be sorted into so seriously was a little silly… I should find it a little silly. It was actually kinda hot. And I liked when he made references to seeing me in the future. The small hints that he liked having me around and wanted me to stay in his life.

“I’ll defer that question for a later date,” I concluded formally, feeling a smile form on my face when he snorted at my tone.

“One more.” His eyes danced with something I couldn’t make out in the low lighting. The hazel depths just seemed warm, happy, and I couldn’t tell if there were any flecks of green there, but I liked the hint of something a little mischievous and challenging in his gaze. “Make it good,” he challenged or encouraged.

Whichever it was, it worked. “Last boyfriend?” I asked. I had done a very good job with this friendly/flirty dance we’d been doing, considering I didn’t usually do this. I usually knew what I wanted and what I was getting. And now the perfect opportunity presented itself where I could test the waters. I couldn’t resist.

And the waters were… murky.

Owen blinked and his mouth dropped open like I surprised him. “Oh, uh.” He fidgeted and laughed awkwardly. His fingers twitched on the table and he looked down, not knowing what to say.

Shit. What if he had a bad breakup? I probably would have reacted the same way if put on the spot about Lucas and I didn’t know if I’d share. While it wasn’t a school course, Lucas and my last relationship were definitely my least favorite subject. “Sorry, you don’t have to answer if—”

“No, it’s fine.” It didn’t seem entirely fine. He met my eyes and gave me a weak smile. “I just. I’m not really the boyfriend type,” he said quietly.

“Oh.” I guess that made sense. He didn’t make a lot of plans for the future, he didn’t seem like the type to be tied down. I couldn’t quite process my feelings about his admission. I should have suspected as much. Still. Having it said was something else. I regretted asking this question.

“I mean,” he amended. “I haven’t been, in the past.” He still looked a little nervous, but there was a gentle, hesitant smile on his face. Was he afraid of how I’d react?

I didn’t regret asking this question. “So, you’re saying—” I started to ask and then trailed off. He might be open to it with the right person? I tried to make my posture open, to seem nonjudgmental. I didn’t want to scare him off.

“I’m saying that I don’t know.” He shrugged, looked down at the table. Good because I couldn’t hide a wince. That didn’t sound very optimistic. “It’s not that I’m opposed,” he continued. “I just haven’t been in a serious relationship. I’m usually more casual.”

So, like the opposite of me. I already knew that. I probably needed to say something.

He spoke again before I could formulate a response. “But remember, I’m the one of us who likes trying new things.”  The gentle smile was back on his face, hopeful. Oh. And that, that definitely sounded optimistic to me.

I didn’t know if I should smile back, maybe I should just be neutral and supportive, but that hopeful look made my insides all soft and warm and I had to smile at him. “Yeah,” I said lightly but with a bright smile on my face. “I guess you are.”

The book is available here.

Book Club

This is an excerpt from the novel Like You a Latte, which features a gay young adult romance. This section shows our heroes getting to know each other while discussing literature.

“I have to read The Great Gatsby for a class,” Owen explained while gesturing to the slim paperback currently obscuring my notes. “What are your thoughts?”

Are you actually reading the book or cheating and looking up a summary on the internet? That was my first thought. He was clearly different than me and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if it was the second one then this budding friendship could end right now with no regret on my part. There were some things that just couldn’t be tolerated.

Yet it felt rude to outright ask. Instead, I questioned, “You want to have an academic discussion with me?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t know if you’d really want to just hang out without being ‘productive’ or whatever.” I fought the urge to look at the notes the book covered again. “So I figured this would be the best of both worlds.” He grinned and leaned towards me. “You surprised me.”

Hmm, had I been too eager by just agreeing to chat with him? It wasn’t like me. I felt defensive and too obvious, like a silly, infatuated boy who fell for the first guy with a nice smile, but then again, he put thought into a conversational topic. He wanted to think of something that would make me keep chatting with him, so maybe we were even.

I couldn’t hold back the moment of truth any longer. “Are you actually completing the readings or are you just finding the relevant information online?”

He scoffed. “Seriously? I’m trying not to be offended here.” That was fair, just because he went to public school and seemed laidback didn’t mean he couldn’t also be serious about his studies. Maybe I judged him too much based on shallow observations.

“I’m sorry,” I started automatically. I would hate someone doubting my intellect.

“Did I look online, really?” He looked smug. “I watched the Leo DiCaprio movie.”

Oh dear. There were no words to adequately convey my horror. I felt frozen for a moment. Whatever expression was on my face made him crack up.

“I couldn’t help myself,” he clapped his hands, still chuckling at me. “That was totally worth it.” People glanced over at our table and he paid them no mind.

I didn’t care if we were causing a commotion either. I had to clarify that, “You’re actually doing the reading?” My relief beat out embarrassment or annoyance. That was the second joke he played at my expense, but it didn’t feel unfriendly. He apparently liked teasing me and I didn’t mind as much as I should.

“Not only am I doing the readings,” he said while leaning back in his chair, “I finished the book early.”

Pretty good, especially for a public-school kid. No that was unfair; not everyone could control where they went to school. Still, I felt giddy with relief. God, imagine trying to be friends or having a crush on someone who used Sparknotes. I couldn’t even picture it; it was too absurd.

I tried not to look too overjoyed, going for a simple, “Good for you.”

His arm nudged into mine good-naturedly. “I may not be the Hermione Granger type, but I’m not a complete slacker. I do my homework.”

Would Hermione Granger have a better GPA than me? No, I couldn’t start down that road, it was madness. “I can’t decide if it’s a compliment or not to be compared to Hermione,” I told him. She was the uptight book nerd stereotype on magical steroids.

“She’s the cleverest witch her age,” he responded immediately. “It’s totally a compliment.”

“Perhaps,” I said with a smile. “But I would look terrible with long, bushy hair.” And no way would I want the job of wrangling Harry and Ron.

He laughed. “You’re more fun than I thought you’d be.”

I wasn’t sure many people would agree with him, but the words ridiculously pleased me. I tried not to show it. “Why did you want to get to know me if you didn’t think I’d be any fun?”

He looked away for a second and coughed awkwardly. Oh, were we getting into dangerous territory? “I just meant,” he started after a moment, not quite meeting my eyes, “That I didn’t think you’d be so willing to talk to me. I thought it’d be a challenge to get you to just chill.”

I’d never been accused of being easy in any capacity. Yet I found myself lacking and I didn’t like it. “Well, I hate to disappoint—”

“No, you aren’t,” he assured me. “I’m glad you can relax and have some fun.”

Well, no one had ever accused of me of being able to relax and have fun either. It just showed my defenses were weakened by a busy schedule and a pretty face. It was my turn to cough awkwardly and try to get us back on track. “Okay, what did you think of the book?”

Just being with him was a distraction I needed to avoid, but I couldn’t bring myself to. Once I started looking at him, I didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t even remember what the book was. I looked down at the table. Right, The Great Gatsby.

He considered the question a moment, then gave me a droll look. “Is it a totally cliché and uninteresting opinion to think the two dudes totally wanted each other?” The part of my brain that couldn’t help itself added that question to the growing list of reasons he batted for my team, next to the rainbow wristband and the way his eyes seemed to lock on mine.

I took a sip of my drink but couldn’t hide an amused look. “Are you pandering to your audience?”

“No, I think, I mean,” he stuttered adorably for a moment. Was there a blush on his face? It was hard to tell with the lighting in here. “I really think Nick wanted Jay Gatsby like Gatsby wanted Daisy, even if his feelings weren’t returned.”

I wasn’t completely sold that anyone from The Great Gatsby got down in the forbidden garden of homosexual delights, though Quinn agreed with him. She called it The Great Gaysby once. I told her to quit joking around. Literature was serious. Everything was serious when it came to me. Owen really thought I was fun? I stopped thinking about this.

“Do you want to tell a class full of students that?” I asked. I was out and from the conversation it sounded like he was too but that didn’t mean I’d want the trouble of trying to defend the inherent gayness of a literary classic to all my skeptical, straight peers.

“Oh,” he said as he considered my words. His face scrunched up adorably and his shoulders sagged. “I might be in trouble then.”

“Stick to the symbolism of the eyes on the billboard and the light at the end of the dock,” I advised. “You’ll be fine,” I advised. “And focus on the main themes of class divides and wealth if you need more to say.”

He nodded seriously. “And when do I talk about the Jay-Z songs they used in the movie?”

I felt my eye twitch. “You’re trying to torture me, aren’t you?”

He grinned unrepentantly. “I couldn’t help it.”

We sat there looking at each other and the moment started to feel intimate. He was cute, funny, clever, and I needed to stop listing his positive attributes. I cleared my throat. “I should get back to studying.”

“Come on” he argued. “We didn’t get to discuss Hogwarts houses.”

“I have work to do and so do you,” I reminded him. I had my fun for the night. Besides, I was clearly a Ravenclaw and he was such a Gryffindor. Back to studying. He eyed me and I met his gaze without flinching. I wasn’t going to budge. “Back to work,” I said firmly.

“So, you are a challenge after all,” he concluded evenly.

That totally wasn’t what I was trying to do. I wasn’t playing coy or hard to get. I’d had my break time and now it was time to get back to work. But instead of calmly explaining all this, I asked, “That a problem?”

His lips quirked up. “Nope.”

We both got back to our respective work. That was all, show’s over, nothing to see here.

Now would be the worst time to start something new. I didn’t have any spare moments. And yet, I wanted to anyway. I didn’t even have the free time required to start obsessing about whether this was the best time to get into a new relationship or not. I would have gladly spent more time worrying about this but.

I wanted to get to know him. Something told me he would be worth it.

You can get the rest now on Amazon or KU.

Bisexual Blues

This is a scene from One Little Lie, a humorous romance featuring a bunch of queer high schoolers. The book is currently on sale!

Luke

Zach was at our lockers, thankfully by himself and not making out with anyone this time. I viewed him from the other end of the hall. Wait, I’m glad he’s alone because he’s been all over girls and he makes it hard to get my books. Not that I’m heading over there at the moment. But that’s why I said thankfully. Because of him and the girls.

Not for any other reasons but that he was annoying and got even more cocky after fooling around. Yep, him going after everyone was totally a hassle and I wasn’t thinking of any one specific instance where it wasn’t a girl he was kissing.

“You can’t avoid him forever.” Ryan stood beside me and looked amused.

I would have tried to act all casual and like I had no idea what he was talking about, but then I looked down at myself and realized I had scrunched myself against the wall as much as possible in the space before the lockers began and was half obscured by the tall structures, with just one eye and one side of my face peering intently at Zach.

Avoiding Zach forever? “I could test that hypothesis,” I said loftily.

“Okay, you speaking science to me is so hot,” he leaned close to me with a smile on his face and then playfully pushed me in Zach’s direction. “But really, go talk to him.”

I nodded. I probably should. I really don’t want to. I gave him a pitiful look. “Please don’t make me?”

“I won’t.” My boyfriend is a sucker for my puppy dog face. I didn’t even have to break out the dimples. Except then his face turned calculating. “I’ll go tell Lydia.”

She would definitely not fall for my puppy dog face, my dimples, or any of my faces.  “I really hate you sometimes,” I told Ryan seriously.

He only smiled at me and quipped, “Don’t be like that, Undecided Nickname.”

“Oh my god. Fine. I’m going.”

This wasn’t a  big deal or anything, but Ryan had totally gotten here early. There was nothing special about today at all, he was just here before homeroom because he knew I’d be freaking out about Zach and wanted to provide moral support or something less sappy sounding.

And that was pretty cool of him and I wasn’t at all getting sentimental over the little gesture and behaving like a giant girl whose boyfriend did something nice and so I got all dreamy and swoony and melty. Yeah, Ryan was great. No big deal, nothing to see here, move along.

To bi or not to bi? That is the question

A snippet from my book One Little Lie that is available now. Enjoy!

Luke

I didn’t like guys. People thinking of me as gay still felt uncomfortable. It was a label that didn’t quite fit. I used the word in my head sometimes because it was better than saying homosexual or something, but I hated hearing it out loud in reference to me. Not that there was anything wrong with being gay! My boyfriend was gay. But me? I didn’t feel gay. I didn’t think I was gay.

Okay, I did have a boyfriend.

And I liked my boyfriend. I could never admit he was good looking to his face because he would become more insufferable than he already was, but I was attracted to him. I never thought long limbs, a flat chest, and decidedly masculine hands were a turn on before, but Ryan was different. And there was nothing girly about him even if he once wore heels and a cheerleading outfit.

I liked his body, every masculine inch of it. But other guys? Gross.

I guess my best friend Zach was pretty or whatever. I could admit that. It didn’t mean I was attracted to him, just that I had eyes. Anyone could see that. Whatever. I just wasn’t attracted to guys… though, okay, maybe I wasn’t terribly attracted to girls at the moment either.

All I could say was that guys didn’t sound appealing and girls didn’t sound appealing, but man, now that I’d mentioned Ryan in a girl’s cheerleading uniform? I was definitely into it. So, that was, what, like a tie?

Maybe my fondness for that visual didn’t say anything about me. Except that I was pretty into the person I was currently seeing and no one else measured up. I’d never felt that way about anyone before, so it was both thrilling and terrifying. Figuring out my sexuality on top of everything else was really difficult.

Did liking one guy make me gay? It felt like everyone in this town thought the answer was yes, but I still wasn’t sure. So yeah. When I told my parents, I didn’t want to be in this this unnamed, unknown place. I wanted to have answers for them.

Right now? I had none.

 

Nicknames are serious business

This is an excerpt from One Little Lie, which will be released on Oct. 20.

It was after lunch and Luke and I were discussing very serious matters.

“I think you’re just going to have to accept the reality of the situation,” Luke told me.

I frowned and leaned against his locker. “That really doesn’t sound like something I would do.”

Luke stood opposite me in a red shirt that hugged his shoulders perfectly. “Aren’t you all science-y?” he asked me. “That’s about facts and…” he trailed off.

“Go on,” I challenged. “Name one other thing.”

“Science,” he said decisively, like he wasn’t a big idiot.

I wasn’t fooled. “Science is about science? I’m dating a genius.”

His face brightened. “Oh, I am alright with that being my new nickname.”

Genius? “Like hell!”

He tutted at me. “You’re not being very accommodating and aren’t relationships about compromise?” Whatever, he wasn’t the relationship expert; I already called it.

“Lemon drop is mine,” I insisted.

He inched just a bit closer and in a low voice said, “Yeah, he is.”

~

Perils of Fake Dating

In One Little Word, Luke needs to use Ryan to get out of trouble. Ryan wants to get Luke back for an old grudge. And then they fall in love? Maybe, but there’s a bunch of other stops along the way.

Here’s an excerpt:

Ryan

My fake relationship seemed to be working out great for my boy toy, but it was pretty inconvenient for me. Time to balance things out. Besides, I could argue it was practical to show up and embarrass him in front of his coaches. I mean interact with him in front of his coaches since he wanted some type of sports scholarship. They should know all about their star athlete and his boyfriend.

I went more subtle than showing up in a cheerleading uniform this time. I wore a pink sweater as it was cold and pink earmuffs for a little flair. Most of the guys had left the field, but Luke was talking to his two coaches at the pitcher’s mound. One of them was older and also the Economics teacher, and the other was younger, probably playing baseball in college.

I jogged up to Luke, giving him a noisy kiss on the cheek and throwing my arms around him. “Hi honey bunny, are you done with practice?”

The two coaches looked at us, blinking and seemingly trying to process. I kept my arms around the rigid jock and smiled enthusiastically at the men.

“Uh, just talking to the coaches… babe,” he said with false cheer. “Give me a second.” He stared into my eyes, telling me get the hell out of here. He didn’t understand me last night, so I ignored him now.

“You’re the cheerleader,” said the older coach.

I had showed up in a cheerleading uniform to his game one time. I guess that made an impression. “My friends call me Ryan, but Lukie calls me his little lemon drop,” I gushed. Technically, it would make more sense for Luke to be the lemon drop: he had blonde hair while I was a brunette, but it was the first pet name I thought of.

Lukie, I didn’t know you had a boyfriend,” responded the younger coach. He grinned and Luke flushed while I soaked in the embarrassment.

“Then you’re the only one,” the other coach grunted. God, even teachers had seen the video?

“What?” the younger one asked.

“Nothing,” Luke said quickly. “It’s nothing you need to see.”

His eyebrows raised.

“We’re an internet sensation,” I said proudly. “Don’t be so modest.”

“We’re hardly a sensation,” Luke argued. He’d pried my arms off him and was holding my hand, gripping it tight. I didn’t back down.

I patted him on the chest. “Let’s not fight in front of your coaches.” I turned to the men with an indulgent smile. “You know how he can be.”

“He’s a great player, keeps the guys focused,” said the older coach slowly, not really sure what was happening.

“Oh, so you just fight with me? I guess I’m special then.”

“So special,” Luke agreed.

I narrowed my eyes. “I didn’t like your tone just then.”

“What?”

“I know you said not to do this in front of them, but I can’t help it. That hurt, Lukie.”

“Oh my god,” he huffed, face red again.

“Well, apologize to your… fellow, Luke,” the older coach said. I fought not to grin as he took my side, looking at Luke expectantly.

“He’s just joking,” Luke assured him, sounding nervous.

Perfect. “Oh, so my feelings are a joke to you?” I raised my voice.

“Luke, come on,” the younger one pleaded. They probably hated dramatic scenes when girls were involved; being around a dramatic gay scene was even worse.

“Son, you’re just going to make it worse,” the older one said.

“Your coaches are smart, you could learn something from them,” I told him, not hiding the grin on my lips.

“Ryan,” he started but I opened my mouth. “Lemon Drop,” he said through gritted teeth, and I let him continue. “I’m sorry.”

I sniffed, turned away. “I don’t think you mean that.”

“I mean it, come on, please,” he begged. I should have captured this moment on camera.

“I can’t stay mad at you,” I exclaimed, throwing my arms around him again. The coaches used it as an excuse to leave.

“I’m going to kill you,” he whispered while awkwardly embracing me back.

“Don’t be like that, honey bear,” I quipped and skipped away.

 

~~~

Night at the Theater

A pretend date from One Little Word.

Ryan

Luke and I went to see the drama club’s fall presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream together. He got to pretend he was an out and proud athlete, and I had someone to go the show with, so I didn’t complain. I flailed internally at how date-like it seemed, but I covered pretty well, I thought. Good thing he was fun to laugh at.

We were early, so we stood in line and waited to be let in while I watched Luke with a bemused expression.

“It’s set in the woods. You’re sure one of them doesn’t wander off and die?” he asked hopefully. “It’s the perfect horror movie scenario.”

“This isn’t a horror movie, it’s a comedy.”

“They should have done Romeo and Juliet instead,” he muttered. His acting chops weren’t that good, but they were good enough people bought our act, so privately I thought he would make a good Romeo. With passionate green eyes and dimples, I could see how any naïve, young Juliet would follow him to certain death.

I felt nervous and excited just from the awkward hand holding we were doing, but I didn’t say any of that. “You like Romeo and Juliet?” I questioned instead.

“It has swordfights and death. It’s the Shakespearean version of an action flick,” he reasoned.

“Well, this is like the Shakespearean Hangover.”

He narrowed his eyes. “No way.”

I shrugged. “Everyone wakes up confused in a forest and there’s a donkey instead of a tiger.”

He didn’t look convinced but said, “I guess I’ll give it a chance.”

“You’re so uncultured,” I teased.

“Dude, don’t be like that. I’m your boyfriend,” he teased back, but I couldn’t handle hearing him say those words.

“Shut up,” I said, removing my hand from his suddenly.

Luke frowned. “I’m just joking.”

“You suck at it.”

He doubled down, clutching a hand to his heart and imploring, “Oh, I’m so sorry, baby. Can you ever forgive me?”

I did not melt. I fought a smile while saying, “Pretty sure you’re hopeless.”

“But you love me anyway.”

The words caught in my throat.

~~~

Carnival Contest

Fake boyfriends. Sarcasm. Hand Holding. Find it all in One Little Word. Here’s an excerpt.

Ryan

Luke stared down my grinning form, his arms crossed against his chest, a reverse of our earlier position. Except his arms were more impressive, muscles bulging and straining against the material of his shirt. I teased him to avoid the distraction.

“Now you’re the one who’s a sore loser,” I said. I held a cake wrapped in plastic in my hands. It was white frosting with sprinkles and funfetti cake. Luke tried to get me to pick brownies instead, he was so weird. Funfetti was the best.

He wasn’t impressed. “That was entirely luck based.”

“There was no rule there had to be skill involved.” The possibility of winning sweet treats kept him from complaining when I selected the cakewalk, but he probably didn’t expect me to win. Maybe I had good karma stored up because I always won cakewalks.

“You’re at least sharing that cake with me,” he argued.

“Keep dreaming.”

Luke had given me a root beer when he won the ring toss, which was unexpectedly sweet. Not that he gave it to me, he was probably trying to bribe me into the dunk tank but that he remembered my beverage of choice. I might share my dessert, but he didn’t need to know that yet.

We did basically every event, jostling and trash talking each other at every opportunity. Things that weren’t even really a competition we turned into one, like the duck pond. Except we got into an argument about what actually constituted winning, getting a higher number or drawing a duck that earned two candies instead of one.

It was almost time to head back to our booth. We had time for one more game, where the objective was to knock down cans with bean bags. This was another game where Luke had an advantage, but Alicia was manning the booth for community service credit, so maybe she would help me out.

She just stared at us when we stepped up to her table. “Isn’t this game a little too easy for you?”

Luke nodded. “For me, but I have to give Ryan a fighting chance.”

“Tell that to duck pond, jackass,” I told him hotly.

I won the duck pond, not you.”

Before we could get into it further, Alicia held up her hand. “Yeah, this and the duck pond are for kindergarteners. You know that, right?”

We looked around. The cans were regular empty pop cans, and the bean bags were about half their size, so it did seem pretty simple. Unless you were six and could barely aim. And the people in this line were especially young and all of them had parents holding their hands who were looking at us in exasperation. The little competitive bubble Luke and I were in burst.

“Oh, I guess we shouldn’t do this one then,” Luke said, sounding as silly as I felt. It had been so easy to get absorbed in trying to beat him, everything else was in the background. There was a lot of trash talking and bragging when one of us won with petulant whining from the loser. I wouldn’t admit I hadn’t minded being in Luke’s presence for the moment, that it was almost fun.

“No, don’t let that stop you. By all means, play the angriest game of Can Knock Down the world has ever seen.” Her sarcasm skills were almost as good as mine.

We retreated from her booth as she laughed at us for being giant children. I wished I hadn’t drank the root beer Luke gave me. I could have chucked it at her.

“So, who won?” I asked.

I’d stopped keeping score at one point, just wanting to beat him so he wouldn’t be so smug. Plus, maybe he had this ridiculous pout whenever he lost that I wanted to kiss away. Ugh. Being attracted to someone I hated was difficult. I’d feel the urge to punch him one moment and want to shut him up with my tongue in his mouth the next.

“I’m not getting in the dunk tank again,” Luke declared. He looked like he had a bad spray tan, but even orange he was still hot. I didn’t think I could pull off that look so well.

“What if I promise not to accidentally dunk you?” I offered.

“That doesn’t stop everyone who tries to hit the bullseye.”

I smiled. “I may be able help with that too.”

“I knew it!” He rounded on me in anger for a moment. “You’re such a cheater!”

“Do you want to cry about it or do you want me to rig it?” I asked.

He stopped and paused. “Definitely, definitely rig it.”

~~~