Chapter 127

“Let me ask, do you have any swimsuits that don’t look like they were purchased from a nunnery?” Violet held up a truly awful one-piece that had body-masking ruffles perfectly illustrating her point.

“I like to be comfortable when I swim,” Camille defended weakly.

“And I’d like for the gentleman you’ve got your eye on to not be capable of taking his own peepers off you,” Violet shot back. “Come on, they invited us to a giant beach house for a week of surf, sand, and severe intoxication. The least you can do is offer up a little eye candy.”

Camille shuffled her feet and kept her eyes trained on the floor. “There will be plenty of girls for him to stare at. Half of our class is coming.”

“Oh, don’t be like that,” Violet sighed, setting down her friend’s suit. It had taken her days of wheedling to convince Camille to do a wardrobe evaluation in her dorm before setting off on the trip. “You and I both know he’s not the type to go stupid over some barely-covered breasts. Honestly, he’s so non-aggressive that if not for his history with Sasha I’d be wondering if he played for the other team.”

Camille snorted a laugh. “He can be a little a shy.”

“You can be shy. He’s just... I’m actually not sure what the word is.”

“He’s different,” Camille answered for her, an unexpected smile dancing across her face.

“I’ll give you that,” Violet agreed. “However, he is still male. Male and able to be sexually engaged. So maybe let’s at least get you something to swim in that’s cute, if still modest.”

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

“No, and if you don’t give in soon, I’m going to call Stella and get her involved, too.”

“Fiiiiiiiiiine,” Camille said, stretching out the word into half acceptance and half groan. “Fine. We can go to the mall. But I’m not getting anything I’m uncomfortable wearing in public.”

“Nor would I want you to,” Violet replied. “I just want everyone to be able to see how cute you really are.”

“Let’s just get this over with.” Camille hopped up from the bed and grabbed her keys. There were only a few days left until everyone departed for the beach. Better to start the hunt for a mutually satisfactory swimsuit now rather than get strong-armed into something when the deadline drew near.

*    *    *

“I have to say, I’m impressed with you,” Angela commented as her little brother haphazardly tossed clothes into a duffle bag. “I never would have expected you to skip a week of training to go lounge at the beach.”

Shane avoided looking at his sister, who was perched on his bed, idly flipping through some of his books as she talked. Angela had shown up, uninvited and unwanted, half an hour ago to talk about spring break plans. He greatly suspected she’d come with the intention of forcing him into some activity he’d hate; however, she’d been beaten to the punch on that one.

“I don’t have much of a choice,” he grumbled, digging through the shallow dorm dresser drawers for extra socks. “They gave an open invite and my entire team jumped on it. Half of them are good friends with Team One anyway, the rest weren’t going to give up a free beach cabin.”

“That’s why I’m impressed. Shane from a year ago would have just trudged on with his training in spite of the fact that his whole team was going off to share an awesome experience. Being a captain has been good for you.”

A witty retort smashed against Shane’s teeth, begging to be let out, but he held it in. She didn’t need to know that he’d only appreciated the importance of team unity because it made them work together better in matches. She certainly didn’t need to be informed that Shane considered this a golden opportunity to gather information on the people he’d be most likely to face in the year’s final match. No, better she think this some silly attempt on his part to feel closer to his team.

“I’m half surprised you didn’t find a way to invite yourself along,” Shane replied, shifting the topic away from himself.

“I thought about it, but the only folks I know from your grade are you and Chad. He’s not going, and you’re a sourpuss, so it didn’t seem like it would be much fun.”

“What will you be doing with your time off then?”

“Cancun with some people from my own class,” she said with a shrug. “I do have my own friends, you know.”

“You’d never guess it from the way you hang around me,” Shane sniped.

“That’s just ’cause I like to make sure my widdle brother doesn’t get so tightly wound that he has a heart attack when he’s twenty.”

“I am not tightly wound,” Shane said, his neck tightening in annoyance. “I just don’t take life as flippantly as you.”

“Potato, potahto,” Angela said. “Speaking of, you got any grub? I have got a powerful hunger gnawing at my gut.”

Shane resisted the urge to try and hurl a lamp at her head. She’d just dodge it if he did, and then he’d be less one lamp. Instead he focused on the fact that the upside of this week would be seven magical days away from the annoying interruptions of his sister. For once, Shane couldn’t wait until classes were over.

*    *    *

Nick was an hour away from Lander at a nondescript diner, eating a burger that he could only assume was the chef’s manifesto of hate against the world, when the girl walked in. Her long dark curls hung midway down a back wrapped in a red leather jacket that clung just the right amount of tightly to her chest. Her legs were sheathed in leather too, ostensibly a safety precaution since she’d ridden here on a motorcycle, but the way they hugged her noteworthy ass suggested an ulterior motive in their selection. She scanned the diner once, then walked to Nick’s booth and sat down.

“My goodness, I didn’t expect delivery from our top reproduction specialist,” Nick said by way of greeting.

“Please, you know this kind of stuff isn’t my area. Cybil did the work, but she had a bar mitzvah for her nephew so she asked me to make the drop.”

“How kind of you.”

The girl’s eyes twinkled as her mouth twisted into a smirk. “I couldn’t just pass up the chance to see the legendary Nicholas Campbell playing a good boy. Nice clothes, by the way.”

Nick bristled inwardly but kept any annoyance off his face. He was playing a role; the fact that he looked so ridiculous spoke only to the fact that he had succeeded in creating an identity truly separate from his own.

“Eliza, much as I adore your body, your wit has never wowed me. How about we get down to business?”

“No need to be rude. Just because I’m the one girl in Vegas you haven’t been inside doesn’t mean you get a pass to be a dick. Especially not when I come bearing gifts.” She reached into her jacket and produced a thick white envelope. Carefully setting it on the table, she slid it over until it touched Nick’s plate.

Nick set down his burger and wiped his hands on the barely adequate napkin. He gently plucked up the envelope and popped it open by sliding his thumb along the seal. A quick survey of the contents seemed to satisfy him, as he laid it back on the table and returned to his meal. “Tell Cybil she’ll get the money within the week. Also let her know the work was exceptional, as always.”

“I’ll pass it along,” Eliza replied. “Why do you need that many fake IDs?”

“Think of it as my little contribution to a truly exceptional vacation.”

“Whatever, long as Cybil gets paid,” Eliza said with a shake of her head. “I think that concludes our business. Unless you want to introduce me to some of these mysterious fellow students of yours.”

“If that were the plan I wouldn’t have met you out here,” Nick pointed out. “Besides, you’d loathe them. Dreadfully dull compared to the company we keep.”

“I bet.” Eliza’s tone said she didn’t believe him, but her rising and heading out the door said she didn’t really care.

That was good; Nick had no intention of letting his real life and his Lander life mix. Much like the awful meal he was barely getting down, that particular combination of ingredients would produce a truly horrific flavor.