I Bet You (Page 2)
“Maybe I need—”
Blaze, one of the players who’s been watching our back and forth with wide eyes, interrupts him. “Um, this is getting weird. Can we get back to the bet?”
Ryker clears his throat, his thick and surprisingly dark lashes closing for a second as if he’s shielding his expression. “Of course. Back to the nitty-gritty. The guys and I have been talking and were wondering if you’d want to earn a quick forty bucks.” That infuriating eyebrow arches up. “Easy money.”
I pause. Money does come in handy, especially when you hold down two jobs and go to school fulltime. Easy bets are also hard to resist. My roomie, Charisma, and I do them all the time, mostly to spur each other on. Last week I bet her she couldn’t get an A on her first astronomy quiz, and she managed to pull one out. Her prize from me was a homemade breakfast complete with buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy.
I exhale and look around at the faces. Besides the jersey chasers in between each player, I take in Archer, Blaze, and Dillon, all of them seniors and star players. I know Blaze best of all, a rather rambunctious puppy dog type of guy I tutored last year in algebra.
As a whole, they seem harmless enough, and I relax a little, pulling a raspberry lollipop out of my apron, taking the wrapper off, and sticking it in my mouth. They help me think. It’s also a nervous reflex.
Ryker’s aquamarine blue eyes are riveted on me.
“What’s the bet?” I say, popping the sucker out and considering him.
He tilts his head toward the center of the table where someone has placed a bottle of ketchup front and center. “We bet you can’t open that. Ten bucks from each of the players if you can.”
Ha. I maintain a poker face, fighting back my grin. I open stubborn ketchup bottles on the regular. An hour ago, I managed to get a pesky jar of pickles open for our manager—who’s a man.
“And if I can’t?” Our eyes meet across the table, and I get a zip of heat from the intensity of his gaze.
“Then dessert is on you.” He smirks. “I’ll put my order in now: key lime pie.”
He. Is. So. Freaking. Cocky.
I exhale, my hands flexing from thinking about opening the bottle.
They’re all looking at me with expectant faces, and dammit, I know there has to be a trick here. They’ve probably been sitting here tightening it up for the past half-hour like overgrown kids.
But I’m no weakling either. I work out. I do yoga. I run. Heck, I do all the things.
“Do it, do it,” Blaze chants, and I tell him to zip it.
“I don’t think you have the balls, cher.” This comes from Archer, his lilting Cajun accent reminding me he’s from Louisiana. I take in his Billy Idol vibe: bleached hair, diamond studs in his ears, and full-sleeve tattoos. He gives me the creeps, but it isn’t because of his bad boy appearance. It’s the sly, beady look in his eyes that bugs me.
I move past him and look at Ryker—who grins.
I know I should just ignore them and keep working, but something about him gets the rebel in me riled up. I want to win and rub it in his handsome freaking face.
“Fine, give it to me.”
The guys clap and fist-bump each other as I hold my hand out. Ryker swipes the bottle off the table and stands to walk over and offer it to me.
I’m five ten, yet he towers over me when I look up at him.
“Good luck,” he says with a smirk as he passes it off. Our fingers brush—accidentally—and electric sparks detonate. I realize it’s the first time we’ve ever touched skin to skin, and my mind goes back to the sexy snippet I wrote. My entire body flushes.
I wonder if he feels the same current because he gets this peculiar expression on his face and drops his hand quickly, a scowl on his face. He considers me carefully, as if I’m a puzzle he can’t quite figure out.
Whatever. I don’t have time to dissect his reaction.
I look down at the full bottle, and it appears to have never been opened. I give it a try, testing it out with a strong tug, but the white cap doesn’t budge. This might be harder than I thought.
“Need some help?” Ryker says as he takes his seat.
“Not from you.”
He just grins. Again. Unfazed by my rudeness.
And I’ll be honest, there’s a dimple on his right cheek that does squishy things to my insides when he smiles. It always has. But, like I’ve done in the past, when it comes to a womanizing football player, I squash that feeling down. Football players are not for me.
Time to get serious and get this mother off. I take a break from twisting, set my sucker on a napkin on the table, and then wipe the sweat off my hands on my apron. I go in again, bending over and holding the bottle with one hand while the other tugs at the stubborn cap.
Ryker watches me with avid, intense interest, and it makes me more determined.
There is no way in hell I’m serving him pie on my dime.
“Penelope! Penelope! Penelope!” Blaze chants, and I glare at him to be quiet.
A few more twists and pop! it’s free.
I let out a triumphant cry, but because of the angle and the pressure inside the bottle, red liquid spurts out everywhere. I look down at my I ♥ Vampires shirt, which now sports a blob of dark crimson ketchup that starts at my right shoulder, crosses my A cups, and then trails down to the waist of my yellow skinny jeans.
Great. I’m covered in half the bottle.
And it’s my favorite shirt.
Everyone at the table bursts out laughing, and my hands clench. My gaze darts around the group and when I meet Ryker’s gaze, he stops smiling, sobering as he takes in my face. “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“But f**k if it isn’t funny,” says Archer the A*****e.
“Dude, you look like someone shot you,” Blaze adds.
“Thanks,” I snap.
The jersey chasers giggle again.
“Shut up,” Ryker says quickly, and then he looks back at me. “You okay?” He stands back up and hands me a wad of napkins, but I push them away.
My lips tighten. “I’m fine. I’m going to go clean up, but when I come back, I want my money.”
He nods and gives me a long, searching look…one I can’t decipher. “Done.”
I stand in front of the mirror in the restroom and gasp. Holy moly, I’m a total disaster. Red is on my shirt, my neck, my cheek, and there’s even a dab in my hair. I let out a heavy sigh as I wipe at it with a wet paper towel. At least my hair is auburn and the red will just blend right in. I scrub at the stain on my shirt, but all I end up doing is making a giant wet spot.
“Forget it,” I mutter to myself a few minutes later as I straighten my lopsided messy bun and adjust my glasses. My makeup is faded, and I reach into my apron for a tube of cherry red lipstick then quickly swipe it over my mouth. Like that’s going to improve the situation. I need a makeover and new clothes stat.
I walk out of the restroom and take in Sugar’s Bar and Grill, a restaurant in Magnolia, Mississippi. The dinner rush is over, but a few stragglers will come in, mostly college students. Only a block from campus, Sugar’s has a modern farmhouse feel with galvanized steel light fixtures, pale pine floors, and straight-back metal chairs, but the food…well, that’s what keeps the place hopping. It’s the only restaurant near campus to get anything you want served up with a side of fresh fried green tomatoes. Their menu also features Southern classics, such as chicken and dumplings or macaroni and cheese with bacon sprinkled on top. Just thinking about it makes my stomach rumble. I was so wrapped up in writing during my break that I forgot to eat.