The wealthy and elite. The ambitious and the abandoned. At Welles Academy, image is everything. But when a tragedy rocks the posh boarding school campus, some bonds are broken and others are forged forever. And falling in love with your enemy, your best friend, or your forbidden opposite is entirely possible. Ginger Scott is kicking off a brand new series this week, and I have a sneak peek for you from the first book in the series—an emotional frenemies to lovers romance.
By the time I’m at the pool’s edge, I’ve morphed everything that just happened with Theo into fuel. I kick my slides off and shimmy out of my sweatpants, then kneel to pull my goggles, earplugs, and cap from my bag. The entire time, I’m having imaginary arguments with Theo, conversations I will likely never really have. My textual therapist encourages these delusions, so why not indulge them now, when I’m alone.
“You know what? Fuck you, Theo Rothschild. Yeah. That’s right. Fuck you,” I mutter through gritted teeth, pointing at the air.
“Glad I came back for that.”
I spin to find him standing a dozen feet from me. How is he so silent? My brow pulls in so tight I bet I could hold a penny in the crease above the bridge of my nose. I’m both sad and angry. He wasn’t supposed to actually hear me. But also, he deserves to.
“You pissed me off.” I fold my arms over my chest, my goggles dangling from my wrist and my earplugs and cap gripped in my fist.
“Good. You pissed me off.” His arms cross his chest, his hands tucked under his biceps that completely fill the sleeves of his gray Welles T-shirt. It’s distracting and I blink my eyes free of the visual, forcing myself to—shit—stare into his incredible eyes.
“You can’t just copy what I say and make that your argument. This is stupid.” I shake my head and turn my body so I’m not directly facing him as I do my best to pretend I’m blocking him from my mind. He’s all over my mind, though. He’s in my head, and he’s stealing my oxygen. Now, he’s poisoned the pool.
“You and James.” That’s all he says. I get the gist, even if my low self-esteem denies it. This is about jealousy. I can’t believe it’s truly about him liking me. It can’t be. It has to be more about staking a claim.
“You and James. There!” I growl. He flinches a touch and his brows pinch. “I’m repeating things, just like you’re doing. It’s frustrating, isn’t it?”
My cap isn’t opening the way I want it to, probably because my hands are trembling.
“Gah!” I throw it down on top of my bag. My earplugs are still nestled in my palm, and if I were truly bold, I’d put them in my ears right now and mock him. The visual in my head amuses me, and it must show on my lips.
I laugh under my breath at his question and shake the plugs in my hand as if they’re dice.
“Nothing is funny, Theo. That’s the point. This?” I point between me and the pool then do the same to the space between me and him. “It’s so far from funny. It’s torture. I don’t know how to do any of it, and for a while, only a few months ago, I thought I did. I was becoming a better version of me, and now—”
“I don’t know what to do about the way I feel.”
My eyes jet to his the second his confession hits the air. His arms fall limp at his sides. His eyes slope with the weight of stress, with pain, and with something else. It’s that something else that has my heart bruising the insides of my body. He almost looks . . . lovesick. My skin is numb. My lips . . . numb. I don’t know how to respond to him.
“Are you hurting?” I relax my muscles and tilt my head, holding his gaze and trying not to blink.
He chuckles at my question.
“Yeah, Lily. I’m hurting. All the fucking time. But that’s not what I meant. Or maybe it is.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I shout, shaking my hands out at my sides.
He sucks in his lower lip and shuts his eyes.
“I can’t stand the idea of someone else touching you.” His lashes lift enough to shed light on his blue-diamond eyes. The beam. I’m pierced by them.
“Nobody is touching me, Theo.” My voice is raspy, and quivers with my nerves.
“He is. In here,” Theo says, pointing to his head.
“James?” I ask.
Theo nods slowly, his eyes steady on mine. His finger slides from his temple and he takes a cautious step forward. My knees threaten to give out, and the idea of leaping into the pool and swimming away from him passes through my mind. Perhaps I’d make it the entire distance to avoid this threat. To avoid really giving in and allowing myself to want, to have.
“I hate shopping.”
Theo’s lip ticks up slightly on one side.
My body is buzzing and my breath hitches, and for a moment, it’s that night again. Not the awful part, but the hours before. The air between us crackles with hope and anticipation. All the while, Theo inches closer to me.
“I lifted way more than I normally do tonight. Probably going to have some injuries to nurse from it. Had to pile more on than James because—”
“Because in your head he was touching me?” My face and neck warm at the words I just spoke, but when Theo licks his lips and nods slowly, the gamble was worth it.
“He’s not, though. Not really.” As if I need make that clear.
Theo shakes his head and closes the remaining distance between us. His thumb presses into my bottom lip while his fingers gently lift my chin. My mouth parts with a quiet gasp. I can feel my nipples harden against my swimsuit.
“I watched you swim last time,” he says, and my mouth contorts into a slight frown.
“Why?” I cry. I’m embarrassed. More than that, I’m a little ashamed. “You shouldn’t have watched.”
His thumb runs across my lips.
“I was afraid to leave you alone.” He swallows hard. His eyes probe mine, and the mortification I felt a second ago fuses with a new drug making its way through my body. My chest grows warm, my stomach echoing with my beating heart. It’s as if he’s given me a dose of dopamine.
“Why?” I utter.
On the surface, I know why. Because he saved me once. And even if I don’t accept that I needed him to, the reality is I probably did. I don’t think I would have blacked out and drowned. I can’t say I would have gotten in the pool ever again, though. And my next move probably would have been to the enrollment office to demand a withdrawal. I would have quit—everything. I would have crawled back to a family that doesn’t really want me in it, to a life that would lead to average and unfulfilling. And the damage in my heart would only gather more scars until the burden was so heavy it would turn me into a copy of the girl I was supposed to be. And pieces would be missing.
“I don’t know what to do about the way I feel,” he repeats. His gaze caresses my mouth and cheeks, my nose, my eyes. His thumb moves along my jawline, making room for his other hand so he can cradle my face in his palms.
“But you feel . . . something,” I croak.