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Hate to Love You


  To everyone who helped me get this beast together!

  To my own time at college, to those in college now, and to those who love a trip down memory lane. College was some of the most dramatic years of my life, but also some of the best adventures and it’s a place where hopefully you’ll make some of your lifelong friends.

  Shay Coleman tanked my dream of going pre-law.

  Okay, not really. That was an exaggeration, but it had been my dream to be a lawyer. I joined mock trial. I was a witness the first year. The head defense lawyer my second year.

  I knew my shit.

  I knew the loopholes. I knew all the motions, what I could object to, what I couldn’t, and what I still wanted the imaginary jury to hear. I went the whole nine yards.

  I was going to become a lawyer.

  Until I marched into my first political science class and everything went downhill from there.

  I learned four things right away over the first couple of weeks:

  1. Memorizing laws was boring. No, really. It was really boring. Too boring for me. I knew I’d have to cut my losses here.

  2. While I didn’t need to study in high school, I sure as hell did in college.

  3. I needed to learn how to study.

  4. Arrogant pricks could be real assholes in college, too.

  Shay Coleman taught me that last one.

  “Break into groups of four or five.” The professor raised the worksheet in the air. “Go over these discussion questions, and one person will share with the class. Go.”

  I glanced around from my spot in the second-to-last row. This was where I cursed myself for not forcing Kristina to take the course with me. I was a freshman and this class was mostly upperclassmen.

  Gripping my seat, I was ready to turn it in one way or another, but nope. Blondie on my right was in a group. Her back was facing me. The same thing straight ahead.

  I knew who sat on my left and I didn’t want to look that way.

  They sat there the first day of class. I was in the second-to-last row on that day and had watched them, one by one, as they trailed in.

  They were big.

  They were muscular.

  They were gorgeous.

  All six of them.

  One was tall with broad shoulders, dark blond hair, blue eyes lined with ice, trim waist, and the kind of cheekbones girls would melt into their seats and sigh about. He was model material, and it was so cliché, but of course, he was the school’s quarterback.

  Shay Fucking Coleman.

  The others were a starting defensive lineman, a wide receiver, a tailback, an offensive lineman, and the lankiest one was the team’s kicker. I knew this because my brother, Gage, made me go to not one, not two, not five, but seven of the games last year when he was a freshman. Then, as if that weren’t enough, he’d quiz me on their stats when we walked back to his dorm.

  It was the best part of my visits.

  Note the sarcasm.

  But back to that first day of class—his five friends had taken the entire last row, and the only chair left open had been the one right behind me.

  Shay paused, bringing up the rear. He looked at the chair and then at me.

  Here was the thing.

  I was young, but I knew I had that Nina Dobrev look. Slim body, long brown hair, and long legs. I was a couple inches taller than normal girls so I didn’t understand the appeal, but guys liked how I looked, or they did until they found out Gage and Blake Clarke were my brothers. Opinions changed after that, though I had hoped that would change in college. Dulane was big. It was a private university, but it was still big enough that I could go four years and never see my brother on campus.

  Over fourteen thousand students attended Dulane.

  I rarely got hit on in high school, but people used me to get to both my brothers, Gage and Blake. Girls loved me, and guys either respected me or hated me. It depended on how they viewed my brothers, but there’d really only been one of those two reactions. The guys mostly showed me respect. That lasted until Gage graduated. Blake was years older, so he was out of the house long ago, but Gage was the hold-out. Once he went to Dulane last year, everything changed.

  Guys in my grade remembered how I looked, and respect went out the window. I was hit on enough that the girls began to hate me. Add that year to an event that already happened when I was a freshman . . . well, let’s just say it all came together and made me instantly hate the guy standing behind me.

  His top lip curved up, as if he were holding back a laugh. His eyes were mocking me.

  I gritted my teeth.

  I would’ve been sitting right in front of him. He would’ve been staring at my neck. He could’ve reached forward, pretended something was in my hair just so he could touch me. He could’ve checked my ass out the whole time since our backrests only covered the top half of our backs.

  Shay Coleman wasn’t just the big guy on campus. He was a big fucking deal. He was loved beyond being loved. I heard enough about him from Gage, from Gage’s friends, from even the rumors in my dorm when I would walk down the hallway that I didn’t have to know him personally to know just how adored he was. It was an odd reality, but it was what it was.

  There were people openly watching him, and there were others who were more discreet, but they were still watching. What happened here could set the gossip mills spinning.

  I knew that was a drawback, and he could set the tone for my entire year. If the high school harassment was going to start here, it could come from him.

  Flashbacks from last year flooded my mind, and I couldn’t take it.

  Feeling a chill down my spine, I grabbed my bag and tossed it to the empty seat two down in my row.

  His eyebrows rose.

  Then everyone who was just watching him was watching me.

  A sudden hush came over the people closest to us.

  I grabbed my books and phone and then I stood. I moved right in front of him, and he stood there, holding his own books in front of him. Dumping the bag onto the floor, I plopped back down. Then I sat, and I stared straight ahead.

  He didn’t move. I knew he was looking at me.

  My eyes flickered to the right, and I saw confusion written all over a girl’s face. She bit her lip, her eyes skirting from me to Shay until I felt him move past me.

  My shoulders dropped and I relaxed until I heard him say, “Linde, switch seats with me.”

  I closed my eyes.

  The offensive lineman didn’t argue. He grabbed his things and moved, sitting behind where I had been.

  Shay Coleman sat behind me, and I sucked in my breath.

  This guy shouldn’t bother me, I tried telling myself. I knew of him, but I didn’t actually know him. I had never talked to him. He had never hit on me or called me a bitch after I turned him down. He hadn’t dated me and then slept with one of my best friends behind my back.

  There was no reason for this instant loathing, but it was there.

  I tried to force a calming breath out. Maybe there was no reason for my alarms to be going off. Maybe no one noticed? They just thought I was weird, which I was, but maybe it wasn’t as noticeable as I thought—but nope.

  He leaned forward and whispered, his breath teasing my neck, “Checkmate.” I heard his soft and low laughter.

  I would sit in the front the next time. I made my mind up. He’d stay in the back with his friends. I could move. It wouldn’t be a big deal.

  Our professor announced, “I hope you enjoy where you sat today, because these are your permanent seating arrangements.”

  I expelled a sudden and not-so-quiet groan. That had been a bad joke.

  Just like this freaking group project now.

  The only place I could turn was where he was.

  I had an
irrational hope that he had pulled into the group on my right. That would make sense, but no. When I remained there, the only one not in a group and still sitting forward in my seat, I heard him say, “You can join us, Clarke.”


  He said my last name as if we were friends.

  But I was the friendless loser in that classroom.

  Resigned, I grabbed the edge of my chair and began moving it around. The other four guys were in a separate group. Shay was pulled in as well, along with Linde, a girl who sat across from me, and another girl, too. Both of the girls started at the mention of my name, and I felt their curiosity right away.

  One was dressed in a tan sweater and skinny jeans. Her hair was piled high in a messy bun, and if she had told me she was a sorority girl, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

  I was stereotyping, and I felt bad for that, but I swear that she had the look.

  The other girl was less flashy but dressed similar to the first girl. Skinny jeans and a white sweater instead of tan. Her dark hair hung loose. Both wore natural-looking makeup, light pink lipstick, and eye shadow. The first was beautiful, but the second girl’s eyes were a little too wide for her face to put her in the same category.

  I skimmed a look over at Linde. He had a round face with laugh lines creased by his mouth and eyes. I’d heard him laugh enough over the past two weeks to know they were there for a reason. He was large, built like an ox, and whenever I looked at him, I was hit with the urge to hug him like a teddy bear.

  “How’d you know my last name?” I refused to look at Shay Coleman.

  Did he know my first name, too?

  “Gage told me to look out for his little sister, Kennedy Clarke.”

  I looked over and tried not to feel the punch to my chest. God. He was gorgeous. Those eyes were focused right on me. They weren’t looking away. All of his concentration was there. My mouth was dry.

  “You’re friends with my brother?”

  When did that happen? I doubted that was true. Gage would’ve been preening like a peacock about it.

  Those eyes were still laughing at me. He lifted his lips up in a slight smirk, slight grin. “He was at a party. We got to talking about classes. Told me to look out for you.” Those lips lifted the rest of the way into a full smirk. “He said his sister would have a chip on her shoulder. Knew right away who he was talking about.”

  Air escaped me. Gage was a shithead.

  I struggled to keep a mask on my face. “That’s hilarious.”

  The twinkle in Shay’s eyes told me he thought it was, and I got it. I did. I came off as a bitch, but trust me. There was a reason. I’d learned it was better to start swinging first than to get hit by someone else, metaphorically speaking.

  Linde lifted up the worksheet. “We’re supposed to talk about abortion.” He pointed at the other two girls. “Guessing you two chicks are pro-choice?”

  The prettier one rolled her eyes. “Shut up, Ray. Just because we have vaginas doesn’t mean we’re about abortions.”

  “Yeah, but don’t you want to have the right to choose?”

  Shay moved his seat closer toward them, which brought him also closer to me. His large knees brushed against mine, then they moved as he leaned forward and rested his arms on his desk.

  The prettier one didn’t say anything. Her lips pressed together, and her eyes shifted to her friend.

  “Uh.” The friend coughed and jerked forward in her seat. Her elbows rested on her desk. “What’s the worksheet asking us to discuss? Our individual opinions?”

  Linde’s finger smacked at his sheet. “Number one.” He angled his head to read from it. “Discuss the abortion law.”

  “That doesn’t mean we have to talk about our personal opinions.” The prettier one ripped the sheet from his hands. She hunched over it, her finger moving as she read more of the question. “To further develop your own position on abortion, review the following points raised by a pro-life and a pro-choice view. Your group must present your discussion to the class.” She snorted and pushed the worksheet back to Linde. “Fuck that. I’m not presenting anything.”

  Linde looked warily at the paper.

  “I’ll present it for us.” Shay leaned forward, his knee resting against mine again as he reached for the worksheet. “What about you, Clarke? What’s your opinion on abortion?”

  I shrugged. I had no opinion.

  Why was his knee touching me?

  “Come on.” The prettier girl raised her eyebrows in encouragement. “You have to have an opinion.”

  “What’s yours?”

  A low chuckle came from Shay, and the girl’s eyes snapped to him. He ignored the look, picking up a pen to write whatever she said. His leg could’ve moved from mine again, but it didn’t. He kept it there, pressing right against me.

  He raised his eyebrows, too. “Hmmm, Becs? I’m ready to write.”

  “Fuck you, Coleman.” She flushed. Her neck grew red, but his eyes were holding steady on her, and a little grin appeared on her face. “I don’t know. What do you want me to say?”

  “Say what you think and why,” Shay drawled. That smirk was still there, along with another twinkle in his eye.

  Her cheeks were full-on pink as she looked down at the desk, shrugging her slender shoulders. She clasped her hands together, resting her arms fully on her desk so they fell off, as if she were reaching toward him. “I don’t know. I mean, my family’s religious.”

  “You’re pro-life, then?” Linde asked.

  “Yeah. What about you?” But she wasn’t asking him. Her eyes were on Shay. It was obvious whom her question was directed toward.

  He lifted up his pen and grinned. “I’m just the reporter for the group. You guys tell me what to write.”

  Linde swore, grinning and shaking his head.

  “Come on.” Becs’ smile spread. “You have to tell us.”

  He grunted. “What about you, Amy?”

  The plainer friend coughed. “It’s Aby, and I don’t know.” The two girls shared a look. “I guess I feel the same. My dad’s a pastor. I kind of have to be pro-life, you know?”

  Linde’s eyes widened. “Your dad’s a pastor?”

  Becs laughed, gesturing her hands in a lowering motion. “Settle down. She’s got a boyfriend.”

  Linde frowned at her. “It isn’t like that. I’m just surprised—”

  Aby cut in, “He doesn’t go here.”

  Becs’s head went back to her friend. “Why would you say that?”

  Aby shrugged again, tucking some hair behind her ear. “What? I mean, he doesn’t. He goes to Methal. It’s four hours away.”

  “Isn’t Methal a Christian college?”

  I glanced sideways to Shay. He had a serious look on his face, but not in his eyes. It’s the same look he gave me the first day of class. He’d been laughing at me then, and he was laughing at these people now.

  “Yeah.” Both girls turned to him. Aby pulled on one of her sleeves, smoothing it down. “I’m sure he’s pro-life, too.”

  This was grating on my nerves.

  I must’ve made a noise, because all eyes turned to me.

  I could feel Shay’s smirk growing even as he asked, “Yes? You got a different opinion?”

  I straightened in my seat, shrugging. “I don’t have an opinion, but it isn’t because of who my dad is or if my boyfriend goes to a Christian college. I don’t have an opinion, because it hasn’t happened to me yet. When it does, if it does, I’ll figure it out then. It’ll be my opinion, though. It won’t be because someone close to me told me how to think.”

  Linde’s lips puckered together, and he leaned back. I thought I