The Deal (Off-Campus #1)(5) by Elle Kennedy

“You need to throw down, I’ll be right there with you,” I promise.

“I’m holding you to that. Oh, and next week we’ve got Eastwood heading our way.”

I really should pay more attention to our schedule. Eastwood College is number two in our conference (second to us, of course) and our matchups are always nail-biters.

And shit, it suddenly dawns on me that if I don’t ace the Ethics redo, I won’t be on the ice for the Eastwood game.

“Fuck,” I mumble.

Logan swipes a piece of chicken off my plate and pops it in his mouth. “What?”

I haven’t told my teammates about my grade situation yet because I’d been hoping my midterm grade wouldn’t hurt me too bad, but now it looks like fessing up is unavoidable.

So with a sigh, I tell Logan about my F in Ethics and what it could mean for the team.

“Drop the course,” he says instantly.

“Can’t. I missed the deadline.”

“Crap.”

“Yup.”

We exchange a glum look, and then Logan flops down on the stool beside mine and rakes a hand through his hair. “Then you gotta shape up, man. Study your balls off and ace this motherfucker. We need you, G.”

“I know.” I grip my fork in frustration, then put it down, my appetite vanishing. This is my first year as captain, which is a major honor considering I’m only a junior. I’m supposed to follow in my predecessor’s footsteps and lead my team to another national championship, but how the hell can I do that if I’m not on the ice with them?

“I’ve got a tutor lined up,” I assure my teammate. “She’s a frickin’ genius.”

“Good. Pay her whatever she wants. I’ll chip in if you want.”

I can’t help but grin. “Wow. You’re offering to part with all your sweet, sweet cash? You must really want me to play.”

“Damn straight. It’s all about the dream, man. You and me in Bruins jerseys, remember?”

I have to admit, it’s a damn nice dream. It’s what Logan and I have been talking about since we were assigned as roommates in freshman year. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll go pro after I graduate. No doubt about Logan getting drafted, either. The guy’s faster than lightning and a goddamn beast on the ice.

“Get that fucking grade up, G,” he orders. “Otherwise I’ll kick your ass.”

“Coach will kick it harder.” I muster up a smile. “Don’t worry, I’m on it.”

“Good.” Logan steals another piece of chicken before wandering out of the kitchen.

I scarf down the rest of my food, then head back upstairs to find my phone. It’s time to ramp up the pressure on Hannah-not-with-an-M.

3

Hannah

“I really think you should sing that last note in E major,” Cass insists. He’s like a broken record, throwing out the same unreasonable suggestion each time we finish running through our duet.

Now, I’m a pacifist. I don’t believe in using fists to solve your problems, I think organized fighting is barbaric, and the idea of war makes me queasy.

Yet I’m thisclose to punching Cassidy Donovan in the face.

“The key is too low for me.” My tone is firm, but it’s impossible to hide my annoyance.

Cass runs a frustrated hand through his wavy dark hair and turns to Mary Jane, who’s fidgeting awkwardly on the piano bench. “You know I’m right, MJ,” he pleads at her. “It’ll pack more of a punch if Hannah and I end in the same key instead of doing the harmony.”

“No, it’ll have a bigger impact if we do the harmony,” I argue.

I’m ready to rip my own hair out. I know exactly what Cass is up to. He wants to end the song on his note. He’s been pulling shit like this ever since we decided to team up for the winter performance, doing everything he can to single out his own voice while shoving me into the background.

If I’d known what a fucking prima donna Cass was, I would’ve said hell no to a duet, but the jackass decided to show his true colors after we started rehearsals, and now it’s too late to back out. I’ve invested too much time in this duet, and honestly, I truly do love the song. Mary Jane wrote an incredible piece, and a part of me really doesn’t want to let her down. Besides, I know for a fact that the faculty prefers duets to solos, because the last four scholarship-winning performances have been duets. The judges go cuckoo-bananas for complex harmonies, and this composition has them in spades.

“MJ?” Cass prompts.

“Um…”

I can see the petite blonde melting under his magnetic stare. Cass has that effect on women. He’s infuriatingly handsome, and his voice happens to be phenomenal. Unfortunately, he’s fully aware of both these assets and has no qualms using them to his advantage.

“Maybe Cass is right,” MJ murmurs, avoiding my eyes as she betrays me. “Why don’t we try the E Major, Hannah? Let’s just do it once and see which one works better.”

Benedict Arnold! I want to shout, but I bite my tongue. Like me, MJ has been forced to deal with Cass’s outrageous demands and “brilliant” ideas for weeks now, and I can’t blame her for trying to strike a compromise.

“Fine,” I grumble. “Let’s try it.”

Triumph lights Cass’s eyes, but it doesn’t stay there long, because after we sing the song again, it’s clear that his suggestion stinks. The note is far too low for me, and instead of causing Cass’s gorgeous baritone to stand out, my part sounds so clumsily off that it draws attention away from his.

“I think Hannah should stick to the original key.” Mary Jane looks at Cass and bites her lip, as if she’s afraid of his reaction.

But although the guy is arrogant, he’s not stupid. “Fine,” he snaps. “We’ll do it your way, Hannah.”

I grit my teeth. “Thank you.”

Fortunately, our hour is up, which means the rehearsal space is about to belong to one of the first-year classes. Eager to get out of there, I quickly gather my sheet music and slip into my pea coat. The less time I have to spend with Cass, the better.

God, I can’t stand him.

Ironically, we’re singing a deeply emotional love song.

“Same time tomorrow?” He eyes me expectantly.

“No, tomorrow is our four o’clock day, remember? I work Tuesday nights.”

Displeasure hardens his face. “You know, we could’ve mastered this song a long time ago if your schedule wasn’t so…inconvenient.”

I arch a brow. “Says the guy who refuses to rehearse on weekends. Because I happen to be free both Saturday and Sunday nights.”

His lips tighten, and then he saunters off without another word.

Dick.

A heavy sigh echoes behind me. I turn around and realize MJ is still at the piano, still biting her lip.

“I’m sorry, Hannah,” she says softly. “When I asked you guys to sing my song, I didn’t realize Cass would be so difficult.”

My annoyance thaws when I notice how upset she is. “Hey, it’s not your fault,” I assure her. “I wasn’t expecting him to be this much of a jerk either, but he’s an amazing singer, so let’s just try to focus on that, okay?”

“You’re an amazing singer, too. That’s why I chose the two of you. I couldn’t imagine anyone else bringing the song to life, you know?”

I smile at her. She really is a sweet girl, not to mention one of the most talented songwriters I’ve ever met. Every piece that’s performed in the showcase has to be composed by a songwriting major, and even before MJ approached me, I had already planned on asking to use one of her songs.

“I promise you, we’re going to sing the shit out of your song, MJ. Ignore Cass’s bullshit tantrums. I think he just likes arguing for the sake of arguing.”

She laughs. “Yeah, probably. See you tomorrow?”

“Yep. Four o’clock sharp.”

I give her a little wave, then leave the choir room and head outside.

One of my favorite things about Briar is the campus. The buildings, ancient and covered with strands of ivy, are connected to each other by cobblestone paths lined with sweeping elms and wrought-iron benches. The university is one of the oldest in the country, and its alumni roster contains dozens of influential people, including more than one president.

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