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The Other Game by J. Sterling (1)

I glanced down at the red plastic cup in my hand, still filled with just as much beer as I’d started with when my brother and I first arrived at the frat party. Only now it was lukewarm instead of ice cold. I wasn’t sure why I continued to clutch the cup like it was some sort of safety net. Or maybe it was—as long as I held it, no one bugged me and tried to get me to drink anything else.

Lord knows I had enough to deal with just being the brother of Jack Carter. It was my responsibility to make sure we got home all right. Not that Jack tended to drink all that much during baseball season, but still.

“Hey, Dean.” A leggy blonde wove her way through the crowd in the fraternity house’s front yard to reach me. I had no idea who she was.

“Hey,” I said back, not wanting to be rude, but knowing from experience what would come next.

“Where’s your brother?”

And there it was, the one thing that ninety-nine percent of the female population at Fullton State cared about—my older brother, Jack.

Without saying a word, I pointed in the direction of the driveway where he stood with a few of his teammates, watching another blond girl dancing.

“Wanna introduce me to him?” She batted what had to be fake eyelashes at me, and I blew out a long breath.

“Not really. He’s not hard to talk to, I promise. Just go say hi.”

I gave her a little shove, which was probably rude, but hell. Sometimes it was annoying being the younger brother of a future major league baseball player. That was part of the reason why everyone wanted a piece of him, especially the girls. They knew he was going places, and they wanted to hitch a ride.

Girls were weird, and I’d never understand them.

I looked back at my brother, realizing he held a short girl by her arm for half a second before letting go. The little pixie stood there, apparently annoyed, scowling up at him as she tapped her foot on the concrete. Jack leaned toward her, saying Lord knows what.

That was when I realized who she was.

Melissa.

Please, God, if you care about me at all, don’t let Jack be interested in her. Or vice versa.

I had a class with Melissa, and often found myself staring at her tanned legs instead of paying attention to the teacher. I’d caught her staring back at me too, and on the few occasions she sat next to me, her leg would occasionally bump mine, or her shoulder brushed against me, and I’d get a whiff of the fruity scent of her shampoo.

We flirted, that much I knew. And she seemed interested, but so far I hadn’t worked up the nerve to do anything more than ask for her name. I’d thought of those big blue eyes and silky brown hair more often than I cared to admit.

Hell, maybe I was more like Jack than I realized, I thought, but then gave myself a mental slap. No, no way. I didn’t want to sleep with Melissa and then never do it again. That kind of shit wasn’t in my DNA the way it was in my brother’s.

Melissa passed by me in a huff as she stormed into the frat house, and I smiled to myself before chasing after her. Being pissed off suited her. Her blue eyes practically gave off sparks when she was mad, making her look like a pissed-off Tinker Bell.

“Melissa!” I shouted over the music, but she didn’t seem to hear, so I shouted her name once more as I reached for her arm.

She instinctively yanked out of my grasp and whipped around to face me, her eyes narrowed and blazing, ready to do battle. But once she realized it was me, everything softened. Her expression, her body language, everything relaxed. Then her pretty face broke out into a big smile.

“Dean, hi!”

When she launched herself into my arms and gave me a big hug, I hugged her back and breathed her in, trying not to look like a douchebag. She smelled like summer and sunshine. After a beat, I reluctantly released her.

“Was my brother bothering you?” I nodded my head in the direction of the front door.

“Your brother’s an asshole.”

Thank you, God, I thought, assuming that this meant Melissa was not, and never would be, interested in him. He could have all the other girls in Southern California, but not this one.

“He’s not so bad,” I said, defending him out of habit.

Melissa groaned. “I don’t care. Apparently his latest conquest is my best friend, Cassie. I don’t want to deal with that fallout.”

“The blonde dancing in the driveway?”

“That’s the one.”

“She looks tougher than most,” I said with a smile, hoping to calm her fears a little.

“I hope you’re right,” Melissa said, but she sounded unsure. “I have to go to the bathroom. I’ll see you in a bit.” She gave me another quick hug before she disappeared into the crowded hallway.

I walked back outside and saw the leggy blonde who’d wanted an introduction still hadn’t moved. The girl’s eyes stayed trained on my brother, and I wondered what on earth could be so interesting.

That was when I noticed what appeared to be a verbal battle. The girl who’d been dancing in the driveway wasn’t leaning into my brother as he spoke to her like most girls did. No, Melissa’s best friend—Cassie, I think Melissa said her name was—appeared annoyed, disinterested, and disgusted.

Suddenly she spun away from him, shaking her head.

“I like you,” Jack shouted after her as Cassie stomped away.

“So you’re dumb too,” she shouted back at him over her shoulder. “I’ll add it to the list of your many redeeming qualities.”

Surprised, I let out a belly laugh. This chick was too much. I’d never seen any girl act that way toward my brother, and I got way too much pleasure from it.

Jack saw me laughing and headed toward me, a perplexed look on his face. “You think that’s funny?”

“Hell, yes, I think it’s hilarious. What was that?”

“I don’t even know,” he said, shaking his head. “But I liked it. She was hot as hell, and her sassy little mouth just turned me on.”

“But, what happened? Was she actually not interested in you?”

Shocked, I glanced up at the sky, looking for pigs flying. All the girls at Fullton were interested in Jack. Well, apparently all except for Cassie and her best friend, Melissa.

Thank God.

“She’s interested,” Jack said smugly. “She just doesn’t know she’s interested. Lucky for me, I’m very persistent.”

I’d forgotten all about the other blonde standing near us until she cleared her throat.

“Um, Jack,” she said tentatively, and then bit at her bottom lip.

“What’s up, sweetheart?”

“I’m interested.”

“Of course you are,” he said with a smile before grabbing the girl’s ass and pulling her mouth to his.

I walked away from the two of them, shaking my head.

Welcome to being Jack Carter, I thought. It’s a rough life.

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