Undecided, page 1
by Julianna Keyes
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Julianna Keyes. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher at [email protected]
Visit our website at www.juliannakeyes.com.
Cover design by Khoi Le
First Edition April 2016
Nora Kincaid has one goal for her second year of college: be invisible. Last year’s all-party-no-study strategy resulted in three failed classes and two criminal charges, and if she messes up again she’ll lose her scholarship. But there’s one problem with her plan for invisibility, and his name is Crosbie Lucas: infamous party king, general hellraiser…and her new roommate’s best friend.
Crosbie’s reckless reputation and well-known sexcapades aren’t part of Nora’s studious new strategy, but as she’s quickly learning, her new plan is also really boring. When Crosbie’s unexpected gestures of friendship pull her head out of her books long enough to see past his cocky veneer, she’s surprised to find a flawed and funny guy beneath it all. The muscles don’t hurt, either.
But as Nora starts to fall for Crosbie, the weight of one of last year’s bad decisions grows even heavier. Because three failing grades and two misdemeanors are nothing compared to the one big secret she’s hiding…
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To be fair, it’s really not my fault this time.
The ad I answered looking for a “studious, responsible roommate” promised one in return. And the location was perfect: a quiet, older building on one of the many tree-lined streets that edge the perimeter of the prestigious Burnham College, preferred living quarters of retired folks. No temptation here.
It’s the words “studious” and “responsible” that have me dressed in a pair of creased gray slacks, a white button-up shirt, and a prim black cardigan when I knock on the door of 203 Fir Street. I’ve even tied my unruly dark hair into some semblance of a respectable bun. And it is precisely this outfit that makes me cringe when the door is opened not by my socks-and-sandals, starch-collared future roommate, but Crosbie Lucas, uber-jock and renowned campus party boy.
I step back. “I think I have the wrong address.”
His brown eyes rake me over. “Definitely.”
Oh God. Only I could knock on the door of the wrong house and find Crosbie Lucas on the other side. He’s got a stocky build, just a few inches taller than me, but broad enough you can picture him having to turn sideways to fit through the door. With dark auburn hair and a smattering of freckles he’s not textbook hot, but everyone on campus knows he’s never had trouble finding a date.
Having gone to more than my share of frat parties last year, I’ve seen him in action. Hell, if you’ve been anywhere in the vicinity of Burnham College in the past twelve months, you’ve seen Crosbie Lucas. He’s the life of every party: loud and obnoxious, making out in corners, carting in keg after keg, pouring drink after drink. He’s the consummate party boy, and though I’d done my very best to be his female equivalent last year, it hadn’t exactly worked out for me. Hence the cardigan.
I’d printed out the email supplying the address, and now I tug it out of my purse and unfold it, looking up at Crosbie suspiciously when the address in the email matches the address beside the door. “This is the right place.”
He scratches his chin. “Is it? Hmm.”
My eyes narrow. “Do you actually live here?” Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure Crosbie lives in a frat house and always will.
A voice from inside interrupts. “Cros, what are you—? Oh, shit. Ignore him. Ignore him. Please don’t leave!” Then things get a million times worse, because even as I hear the thud of socked feet running down hardwood stairs, I recognize the voice of Kellan McVey, Crosbie’s best friend, campus stud, and my one-time drunken closet hookup.
Oh fuckity fuck.
“Hey, hi, hey!” Kellan skids across the floor before coming to a halt in front of me. His wool socks are bunched around his calves beneath a pair of shiny black soccer shorts and a matching T-shirt. His dark hair curls around his ears and sticks out adorably, his blue eyes sincere and pleading as they meet mine, willing me not to run away.
“I—” I begin, feeling my face heat.
“Ignore him, please, I’m so sorry. You’re Nora, right? Nora Kincaid? I’m Kellan. We’ve been emailing.”
He extends a hand and I shake it automatically, even as his expression remains wholly pleasant, not a trace of recognition dawning on his handsome features. He has no idea who I am. Sure, I was wearing a shiny red corset and a leather mini-skirt during our…interlude at the Alpha Sigma Phi frat party last spring, but I’m wearing a cardigan now, not a mask.
He just doesn’t remember me.
I retrieve my hand, even as my fingers attempt to linger in his for as long as they can. “You said your name was Matthew in the email.” I try not to sound accusatory, even though it’s most definitely an accusation. If I’d known I’d exchanged half a dozen “I do laundry on Tuesdays—what’s your policy on recycling?” emails with Kellan McVey, I never would have shown up today. I’d never have responded to “Studious Homebody Looking for Same” in the first place.
“It’s my middle name,” he says, managing to look genuinely apologetic. Although anyone would look sweet standing next to Crosbie, who folds his beefy arms across his even beefier chest and smirks gleefully as he watches the awkward exchange. But Kellan doesn’t need to put on a puppy dog stare to look guilty and forgivable, because he’s just…so…handsome.
Gah. No. Forget about handsome. I’m looking for serious. Responsible. Didn’t-have-sex-with-and-then-forget-me. Hell, he said he was looking for most of those things. But even as I resent him for lying, I understand why he did it. If he’d put out an ad saying “Kellan McVey looking for a roommate” he’d have gotten a million replies. An ad that includes the line “strict curfew, very few guests, loves homework!” probably only enticed…me.
“Crosbie doesn’t live here,” he says, elbowing his friend in the ribs. “He was helping me move some furniture, and now he’s leaving. He probably won’t even ever come back.”
“Actually, I thought I’d stay and help with the interview,” Crosbie says.
“Er, no.” This year is about making good decisions, and faced with my first challenge, I am not about to participate in an “interview” with Burnham College’s two resident manwhores. Despite my last academic transcript and recent police record, I do have a bra
“Get lost,” Kellan orders, shoving Crosbie toward the door. I shuffle to the side as Crosbie tumbles out, laughing. He smells like sweat and lemon-scented laundry detergent, and when he bangs into my shoulder he grabs my hip to steady me, his big fingers digging in just a little too hard before letting go.
“Sorry,” he says, making a face at his friend. “His fault. You should probably reconsider living here. He’s an asshole.”
I don’t know what to say so I say nothing. Then Crosbie’s gone and it’s just Kellan and I.
“Sorry about that,” he says. “Do you want to come in? Please come in.”
I should leave. He lied to me, he has a stupid friend, and he doesn’t remember that we had sex. If I’d been having any doubts about the wisdom of that hookup, they were cemented forty-five minutes later when I spotted him getting a very public blowjob from a very willing blonde.
The mortification of that moment should be enough to send me running. And I swear I would, if only I hadn’t met with four other potential roommates yesterday and failed to click with any of them. And if only I didn’t need to move out of my cramped room in summer residence by the end of the week.
“Sure,” I say.
It’s a nice, predictable apartment, arranged in the same style as all the others in the neighborhood. The front door opens to a tiny foyer and set of stairs leading up to the living area. The main space features an open kitchen with a small breakfast bar, and one wall is taken up with three doors—two bedrooms and one bathroom, according to Kellan’s ad.
It’s bright and airy, with the original hardwood floors and large windows. There are no special upgrades, just standard-issue appliances and white paint on the walls, and it’s in the process of being furnished as Matthew—Kellan—had explained in his emails. In an effort to keep him away from the party crowd, his parents agreed to pay for this place on the condition he keeps his grades up, but they’re not paying for anything else, so he’s getting a roommate to cover his living expenses. Before today I’d assumed that “Matthew’s” biggest expense would be cat food and brand new board games. Now…not so much.
“Have a seat,” Kellan says, gesturing to the tiny wooden table that, for the moment, is sitting in no-man’s land in the space between the front door, living room, and kitchen. More of a hallway, really. Or, in Kellan and Crosbie’s book, a dining room.
I sit stiffly, crossing my legs then uncrossing them and crossing at the ankles. I tug at my collar, certain my shirt is trying to strangle me. The last time I wore it was during my party girl phase when I’d paired it with a lacy magenta bra and four undone buttons. Today, however, I had to wear a sports bra just to get it to button up over my boobs. A petite frame and a D-cup does not make getting dressed easy.
“Want a drink or anything?” Kellan asks. He waits for me to shake my head before sitting down and resting his arms on the table. He smiles shyly, his teeth white and even, mouth quirking up slightly more on one side than the other to reveal the dimple in his left cheek. Yes, I know Kellan McVey has a dimple in his left cheek. Everyone does. Just like they know he benches 280 and runs a five-minute mile and came in third in last year’s national track meet and is in the second year of a four-year sociology degree. He’s basically Burnham’s resident celebrity, and here I am, in his living room. Dining room.
Our dining room.
No. I can’t even consider this. It’s an exercise in failure, and I have had enough failure in this past year to last me a lifetime. In fact, I won’t even have a life or a future if I repeat last year’s poor performance, hence the commitment to my new prim and proper lifestyle. Nora Bora 2.0. Emphasis on the bore.
I force myself to return the smile, then study my plain fingernails, trying to figure out what, exactly, to say in this situation. “You said—” I begin, at the same moment Kellan says, “I know I—”
We both break off, then laugh awkwardly. “You first,” he says.
“Your ad said you were studious and responsible,” I say, hating how lame I sound. “I didn’t really picture, you know…you.”
He winces. “I know. I’m sorry. But it’s one hundred percent true. At least, it’s going to be. Last year things got a little carried away, I had too much fun, and it cost me. Not just my grades, but nationals. I should have won and—” He interrupts himself with the shake of his head. “That’s not important. The point is, this year is going to be a fresh start. I moved out of the frat house and I want to live with someone who wants the same things. Feel free to party your ass off wherever you want—just so long as it’s not here.” He laughs a little then, and I realize it’s the idea of me partying that he finds amusing.
Ha ha, Kellan, it’s a freaking cardigan, not a chastity belt.
“Sorry,” he says, reading the irritation on my face. “I, uh… I just thought it would make things easier for me and my roommate if there was no…temptation. Like, you know. To complicate things.”
I try not to let my jaw drop. Did he just call me ugly? Or at the very least, un-tempting?
“I mean—” He cringes and runs a hand through his hair. “Shit. I’m so bad at this. Just listen to me. I mean, I asked for someone studious and responsible so we could keep each other on the straight and narrow, you know? If you’re not bringing people here to party, and I’m not bringing people over, then we’ll just…study, right? And, I don’t know, watch the news and…read. Ugh.” His head falls back. “I’m such an idiot. I’m sorry, Nora, this must sound as appealing as prison. Basically I emailed with like, half a dozen people, and you were the only one who sounded any good at all. Like, normal and smart, with a sense of humor. And a strong stance on recycling.”
I smile reluctantly and he looks relieved.
“Come on,” he says, standing. “Let me give you the grand tour so I can try to keep my foot out of my mouth.”
I stand too, then neither one of us moves.
“Well,” he says, clearing his throat. “This is the dining room.”
I nod and try not to laugh. This whole thing is so stupid and weird. I’m not going to be roommates with Kellan McVey. Not only is he the antithesis of everything my ideal new roommate is supposed to be, we’ve had sex.
And he doesn’t remember it.
“This is the living room,” he continues, gesturing behind him. Because we’re pretty much already standing in it, neither of us moves, I just peer over his shoulder. There’s a wooden entertainment unit set up on one wall with an enormous flat screen TV positioned in the middle.
“Full cable,” Kellan adds when I don’t react. “Including HBO.”
“Um…” He scratches his shoulder and points behind me. “That’s the kitchen. I know how to cook and I clean up, too. My mother was a housekeeper, and the last thing she wanted to do when she got home was clean up after four boys, so I know how to wash a dish and take out the trash. That whole bit was true in the email. I wasn’t just trying to lure you here.”
“That was a big part of your appeal.”
He smiles, and there’s the dimple again.
“Hand to God, I’m tidy. Let me show you the rooms.” He heads for the door closest to the kitchen. “They’re the same size, same layout. I already put my stuff in this one, but if you’d rather be in here, just say so and I’ll move over. Honestly, I think Crosbie just didn’t want to carry the mattress another three feet.”
I peek past him into the bedroom. It’s a decent-sized room that easily fits a queen-size bed, desk, and dresser, and a bunch of boxes that have yet to be unpacked. Given Kellan’s reputation, I’d kind of expected red walls, mirrored ceilings and zebra-print pillows, but maybe he’s serious about turning over a new leaf. Or maybe he just decorates his room like a normal person and not a porn king.
This place is the cheapest too, given Kellan’s parents are the ones really covering the rent. And Kellan doesn’t have any cats and he doesn’t smoke, which I appreciate, and he says he washes his own dishes, which—No. No pro list for this place. Cons only.
“So that’s the tour.” Kellan steps back and takes a seat on the arm of the brown leather sofa positioned opposite the television. “And this is me. I swear I pay my bills on time, and I’m going to use this place to sleep and study, no parties. No girls. I know I said that in my email and you probably thought I was lying—”
More like I thought no girls would be tempted to come home with Matthew, who said his favorite food was mac and cheese—
“—but I’m totally serious. This would be our home, and I’d completely respect your boundaries. Fuck. Boundaries? Did I just say that? You know what I mean. And please don’t worry about Crosbie. He’s really not that bad, but I’ll keep him away if he annoys you.”
I force a smile. The place is great. And if not for Kellan, I’d be all over this deal. But telling people I live with Kellan McVey is like telling them I live in a candy store or a bank vault—they’re going to be friends with me for the wrong reasons. Not to mention my own…temptations. I’d like to say I’m above it all and I’m the one girl on campus who isn’t dying to date Kellan McVey, but I’m not. Even with the very offensive I-don’t-remember-having-sex-with-you issue, he’s still super hot. And he seems nice. And kind of dorky, which makes him surprisingly down to earth, and—
by Julianna Keyes have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes