Wanna Read It Wednesday……Out Of Line by Jen McLaughlin


So, here’s some fun for you guys on this fabulous Wednesday!  Below you will find the first TWENTY-FIVE pages of Out Of Line by Jen McLaughlin! How awesome is THAT!? Even better is that you can keep getting more pages if you spread the word and get people to add it to their Goodreads to-read list.  For every 100 adds it gets, we get five pages!  It’s that easy!

 Jen is also giving fans a chance to win a SIGNED paperback advanced readers copy (ARC) of Out Of Line before anyone else can buy it! Enter the rafflecopter at the end of the post to win!

From Jen:

I’m offering up a special contest. For every 100 adds we get on Goodreads for OUT OF LINE before the release (September 10th), I will reveal 5 pages of the book early!

If the book hits 600 adds before the release, I will release a bonus scene from Finn’s POV! I will also choose random people who use the tag‪ #‎OUTOFLINE‬ on twitter and facebook, or adds the book to their TBR list, to receive swag!

Please let people know to add the book to goodreads in order to get these excerpts released.

Add it to your Goodreads shelf here!


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Chapter One-Carrie

I leaned against the wall and surveyed the crowded room. All around me, people were in pursuit of the three majors of college: getting drunk, getting laid, and then getting even drunker. They were shouting in each other’s ears to be heard over the deafening music, sucking on each other’s body parts, or throwing up in a corner. The overachievers would do all three by the time the night ended.

It was freshman year at its finest—and I was the only freshman not fitting in.

But at least no one had been paid to hang out with me at this party. When I was twelve, my father had thrown me a huge birthday party. The turnout had been particularly surprising to me, considering the people who came were the same girls who told me what a loser I was while in school. Of course, as soon as my parents left the room to get cake, the girls had backed me in a corner and pulled at my hair and dress. They had told me that I was such a loser my father had to pay their parents to make them come. Susie had gotten an iPod. Mary received a phone. Chrissie—a pony.

I had gotten a cold, hard dose of reality.

A tall guy bumped into me, hauling me out of memory lane. His beer tipped and spilled all over my open-toed sandals. The cool liquid was almost a welcome change from the stifling hotness.

“Oh, shit. I’m sorry.” He dropped to his knees and started patting at my feet with the closest object he could get his hands on. It looked like a shirt. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

I laughed and shook my head, dropping a hand on his shoulder. He felt a tiny bit sweaty, but who could blame him? It was freaking hot. “Don’t worry about it. Seriously.”

“No, it’s not.” He lifted his head and his eyes went wide. “Oh, fuck. Do I know you?”

My smile slipped a little bit, but I forced it back into place. He wouldn’t recognize me. I had been out of the public eye for well over a year, and I’d made sure to change my appearance quite a bit. I also had much longer hair, and my body finally grew into itself. My braces were gone, and I outgrew those god-awful bangs, too. I liked to think I didn’t look anything like the gawky girl I’d once been.

Please, God.

“No, I don’t think so. But don’t worry about my feet. It’s not a big deal. I was just leaving anyway.”

He stood up. “Are you sure?”

“Positive.” I smiled at him, hoping my sincerity showed. “Thank you, though.”

He gave me one more smile and headed back toward the bar. I watched him go before I worked my way across the room. I needed to get out and breathe some fresh air. Somehow I even managed to make it through the crush without spilling my Coke. As I pushed through the door, the ocean breeze washed over me, immediately calming my pounding heart.

One thing I hadn’t managed to change about myself in my big transformation: I still didn’t do well in crowds. I never should have listened to my new roommate, Marie. I had only been at the University of California in San Diego for two days and had already been invited to four parties. I’d turned down all but this one. It wasn’t because I was a prude or anything. I just didn’t like the craziness that parties entailed.

After all, I had ultimately picked this campus because the occupational therapy program was excellent—not because of the parties. It also had the added bonus of being on the beach and as far away from my parents as I could possibly manage without leaving the country. They were great, and I loved them, but man, they liked to smother me. The “hold me down kicking and screaming as I tried to break free” type of smothering. That was the last thing I needed at this point in my life. I needed to try to be on my own. To try to make my own place in the world. And for once I was really, truly on my own…outside of a raging party that I didn’t belong in, hiding in dark shadows that hid only God knew what. But still. Awesome.

I kicked off my sandals and trudged down the sandy hill to the dark beach, sinking my toes into the chilly sand. Probably not the best combination with the beer bath I had just taken, but whatever. My mom and dad had never let me walk barefoot in the sand. It was too unclean, and syringes might be buried deep down—plus other unmentionable items Mom blushed just thinking about. She couldn’t even say the word condom for cripes sake.

I was convinced I must have been conceived via subliminal messaging or something. My parents were far too proper to do the down and nasty. Too proper to walk barefoot on a dark, scary beach. And I was supposed to be the same. Grinning, I dug in even deeper, loving the way the sand felt between my toes.

I scanned the shadows and found a bench a few feet away. When I sat down, I swung both of my bare feet in the air and let out a deep sigh. There was probably a homeless guy sleeping a few feet away from me in the darkness, but I didn’t give a hoot. I was alone, in front of the ocean, listening to the waves crash on the sand.

For the first time since coming here, I felt at peace. Maybe I could fit in. There had to be some people here who were like me—a little bit dorky and a lot awkward. The door opened behind me, and the sound of heels clacking on the pavement interrupted my thoughts. “Carrie? Are you out here?”

“Yeah. Over here,” I called out.

“Are you trying to get mugged?”
“No. Just trying to find a homeless guy to fall in love with,” I replied, keeping my voice light. “So far, no one wants me.”

“Whatever,” Marie said, snorting. After a few moments, she stood in front of me, heels in hand and hands on hips. Marie frowned at me from behind a veil of perfectly arranged blonde hair, which blew in the ocean breeze. “You totally bailed on me.”

I flinched. Yeah. I kind of had. “Sorry. In my defense, I did tell you parties aren’t my thing.”

“That’s something girls say when they don’t want to seem like sluts.” Marie waved a hand and shoved her hair out of her face. Within seconds, it was back. “I didn’t think you actually meant it meant it.”

“Well, I did.” I swung my legs some more, trying to distract myself from the righteous anger being thrown my way. “You can go back in. I just needed some air.”

“Will you be back?”
“Maybe.” I blew out a breath. “No.”
Marie’s light blue eyes pierced into me. “Are you going to be like this all year long? I like you and all, but you’re kinda lame.”

“I’ll try not to be,” I said as honestly as I possibly could. Because I would try to be sociable and outgoing and not so lame. I would probably fail. “But it will be a while till I’m there.”

Marie rolled her eyes and fluffed her hair with her hand. “Well, hurry up. I’m not going to be lame with you as you struggle to adulthood.”

“You don’t have to do anything. Go back to the party.” I shooed her away, a smile on my face. “I kind of want to be alone with my homeless boyfriend.”

Marie eyed me, the hesitation clear in her eyes and the way she held her weight on one foot, the other slightly lifted. “Are you sure?”

“More positive than a proton.”
“Oh my God. Never say that again.”
I laughed. “Fine. Now go have fun.”
“Okay.” Marie hugged me tight, and her hair tickled my nose. “But next time, you stay whether or not you want to. Enough lameness.”

I watched her go. We were complete opposites, but maybe it would make us great roommates. Marie might be the person to pull me out of my self-imposed shell, and I could make sure Marie studied as hard as she partied. It had the makings of a win-win situation. Maybe. Of course, it could be a complete and utter disaster too.

But I was trying to be optimistic, thank you very much.
I leaned back against the park bench, letting out another sigh. I would sit here for another minute before I headed back to my room. Once I got there, I’d curl up with a good romance book with my current book boyfriend and pretend the real world didn’t exist for a little while.

It would be the perfect Saturday night…for a sixty-year-old woman.

Lame, lame, lame.

After a couple of seconds of pure relaxation, I stiffened. Someone moved in the shadows. I almost missed it, but out of the corner of my eye I caught movement. Who was out here with me? If Dad were here, he’d be saying it was a druggie desperate for his next hit. He’d sic his private security team on whoever dared to walk near him. I used to go back to the spot and give whoever had been held back by my father’s team some money. One of Dad’s security officers would go with me.

But I wasn’t my father, and I refused to jump to the worst conclusions. I stood up and crept toward the shadows, my heart in my throat and my legs feeling less than steady. My mind screamed at me to turn around and run home, but I ignored it.

“H-Hello?” I called out, but it sounded more like a croak than a word. I licked my lips and swallowed hard, taking another step toward the ocean. “Is anyone there?”

Nothing but the waves crashing. I hesitated. Someone was there. I knew it. “I know you’re out there. You might as well come out. If you don’t, I’ll…I’ll call the cops.”

I held my breath, waiting to see if the hidden person would call my bluff and come out. After a few seconds, a shadowed form stepped forward. As the shadow grew closer, I realized it was a man. A guy who stood at least six feet tall and had muscles that I thought only existed in the romance books I read.

He had to be a couple years older than me, maybe a senior, and he had on a pair of cargo shorts and nothing else. Hot damn, he obviously worked out. A lot. He had short, curly brown hair, and he looked harmless enough. But those muscles…

Okay, when I goaded the guy out of hiding, I hadn’t been expecting a freaking bodybuilder to walk out of the shadows. I backed up a step, biting down on my lower lip. “Who are you, and why are you hiding in the shadows?”

He had a black tattoo of some sort on his flexed bicep. Wait. Scratch that. He had tattoos pretty much from his elbows up and all across his shoulders and pecs. Hot. Really hot. This was the type of guy Dad kept me away from. He had bad boy written all over him. In numerous ways.

He rubbed the back of his neck and stepped closer, towering over me. “Who are you, and why are you hiding in shadows?”

I blinked and forced my eyes away from his ink. “I wasn’t. I was sitting on the bench.”

“Maybe I was too, before you came out.” He grinned at me. “Maybe you stole my seat.”

“Did I?”
I shook my head and tried not to smile, but it was hard. For some reason, I liked this guy. “You like that word, don’t you?” I held my hand up when he opened his mouth to answer. “Let me guess. Maybe?”

He laughed, loud and clear. I liked the sound of it. “Perhaps.”

“Oh my God, he says something else.” I held a hand to my forehead. “I might be imagining things.”

“Hm. You do look a little flushed.”

Probably because an off-the-radar hot guy was talking to me. Maybe even flirting? Crap. I had no idea. The last time a normal boy had flirted with me, Dad had his security team drag him out of the mall by both arms. I had no doubt this guy would get the same treatment if he ever crossed paths with Dad. “I do?”

He stepped closer and bent down, his eyes at level with mine. They were blue. Really, really blue, with little specks of darker blue around the pupil. People were always telling me that I had the prettiest blue eyes in the world. They were wrong. This guy did.

“Yep. Definitely flushed.”

I cleared my throat and tucked my hair behind my ear. Until I remembered it was in a ponytail. Then I ended up kind of rubbing against my ear, trying to make it look like I’d meant to do that. And probably failing miserably. “I’m fine.”

“I didn’t say you weren’t.” He backed off and smoothed his brown hair, but it bounced right back into perfect disarray. He headed for the bench I had been sitting on and lowered himself onto it. “So, tell me. Why are you outside instead of partying inside?”

I followed him, scooted my shoes between us to maintain a safe distance apart, and then sat down on the edge of the bench. “Uh…I needed some fresh air. And this party is a little bit too crazy for my tastes. The frat boys are a little crazy too.”

He nodded. “So, you new here?”

“Yeah. I’m a freshman.” After smoothing the stupid skirt Marie had conned me into wearing, I looked at him. “Do you go here?”

“Yeah, I’m a senior.” He cocked his head toward the house. “And I’m in that frat.”

“Oh.” I looked down at my lap. So I’d insulted his friends. Great. Just great. “I’m sure it’s a lot of fun.”

He grinned. “Even though they’re crazy?”

“Uh, sure.” I smiled back at him, but inwardly flinched. It was too late to tell him that the guys were perfectly normal. I was broken—not them. But I would look even more like an idiot than I already did if I told him I’d left because of my own lameness. “Maybe I’ll give it another chance.”

He chuckled. “Not tonight, though, right?”

“Nope. Not tonight.” I played with the hem of my skirt. “I’m all partied out. I drank too much.”

He looked at my cup. “You better watch yourself. A lot of guys will take advantage of a girl who drank too much.”

“But not you?”
His eyes darkened, but he looked away. “Not me.”
It was a pity. I’d never been taken advantage of by anyone, but if I was going to be used, I’d prefer he be the one doing it. I kind of snort- giggled at the thought, earning a weird look from him. Oh well. He wasn’t exactly the first person to shoot me that look. “Then I guess I’m in good company.”

He shrugged. “You should go home and sleep it off.”

“It’s only eleven,” I argued. I conveniently ignored the fact that I’d been planning on going home mere moments before. That had been before him. “Why would I go to bed already?”

He looked at me, running his gaze up and down my body. “You look like the type of girl who’s used to playing by the rules. Good girls go to bed early.”

I was, but I was also freaking sick of being that girl. All my life, Dad had neatly moved me around on his chessboard, a pawn to his own plans. I was done being a pawn. I wanted to be the queen of my own life from now on.

Leaning in, I caught his gaze. He stiffened, a light shining in his eyes I didn’t fully comprehend. “Maybe I’m the type of girl who’s sick of living by the rules and who’s ready to have some fun.”

Chapter Two-Finn

When she leaned in close to me like that, I gripped my thighs. I felt ridiculously out of place right now. I was in a pair of board shorts, pretending to be a carefree surfer dude so that my overprotective, needs- therapy boss could “rest easily” while his perfectly capable daughter attended college. I didn’t even have my gun on me. And to top it off? Carrie was a cute little thing who was looking at me as if she wanted nothing more than to crawl all over me.

I needed to get close to her, but not that close. Even if I wanted to.

Her soft red hair reminded me of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. I had always had a thing for her—what kind of hot-blooded American man hadn’t at one point or another? I especially liked her when she carried a kick-ass gun and wore black spandex and boots. It wasn’t a far stretch of my imagination to picture Carrie in Scarlett’s getup. Her short skirt left little to the imagination, and I wanted her. Bad.

I’d never had such an instant attraction to someone before. The type that demanded I find a way to get her in my arms, naked and writhing, before the end of the month, but I couldn’t have her. I forced myself to picture Senator Wallington’s face instead of Carrie’s. That should help. “I think you look like a good girl who wants to try her hand at being a bad girl.”

“Maybe.” She shrugged. “But maybe not. You don’t know anything about me.”

Ah, but I did. I had her file memorized. And I’d been watching her from the shadows all night long. I also knew enough about her to know she hadn’t been drinking tonight. Knew enough to know the real reason she wasn’t inside was because she hated crowds. She hadn’t been to any real parties until now. And I knew her father was controlling enough to send an undercover agent to watch his nineteen-year-old daughter fumble her way through freshman year.

One thing I knew about repressed girls who went away to college: They went all Girls Gone Wild on crack as soon as they got even the slightest taste of freedom.

The girl was looking for trouble with a capital T. Even I could see that.

She licked her plump, red lips and met my eyes. “So, you going to your room or staying out here with me?”

Oh yeah. Trouble indeed. I shifted in my seat. The girl had no idea what kind of attention she was welcoming. She might only be a couple of years younger than me, but even so, she had off limits stamped across her forehead. I forced a lighthearted laugh. Something I suspected a California boy would do. Hell, something I’d once done. “I don’t really live here. I was fucking with you.”

“Oh.” Her brow furrowed. “Which dorm do you live in?”

“None.” I grinned at her, even though my cheeks hurt from smiling so damned much. “I don’t even go here. I’m just a surfer who lives nearby. Can’t afford the fancy education.”

That much had once been true, at least. When I’d been eighteen, I couldn’t afford the tuition. That’s why I had enlisted in the Marines. My plan had been to use the GI Bill to earn my degree, but I hadn’t gotten to that point in my life yet. As it was, I had shadowed my father’s footsteps and joined the Marine reserves fresh outta high school. I had been ooh- rah’ing it for five years now and had attained the rank of sergeant. On top of that, I held the title of “assistant private security officer” with the senator’s security team.

I could afford to go to college now, but I was too busy. And now I was here in California. I’d been picked for this assignment since, as the youngest employee at twenty-three, I was the most likely candidate to blend into a college campus.

And if I managed to keep Carrie out of trouble, I would return to work minus the “assistant” in my title—and a spike in my pay. But first I had to get close enough to her to be able to be in her company, but not so close that she wanted me even closer.

“Oh, I totally get that,” she said, nodding as if she had a clue about what it was like to be poor. She didn’t.

Her daddy could afford to buy this whole campus without blinking. Hell, he’d already made a sizable contribution to get the dean to allow an undercover agent to linger around campus and follow a student. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” She plucked at her skirt again, her shoulders hunched. “I mean, not personally, but I know how bad the economy is right now. I’m not some bimbo college student. I watch the news.”

Sure she did. Maybe TMZ was her version of “news,” but it sure as hell wasn’t mine. “I’m sure you do, Ginger.”

She gave me a look. I could tell she wasn’t sure if I was insulting her. Maybe she had more brains in her pretty head than I gave her credit for. “My name’s not Ginger.”

I gave her a cocky grin. “I think it has a nice ring to it, though. Don’t you?”

“No,” she said flatly. “So if you aren’t going to college, what do you do?”

“I’m a Marine,” I said. “And the rest of the time I surf.”

I tugged at my Hollister cargo shorts. Apparently that’s what all the California kids wore nowadays. I must’ve grown up since I left, because I preferred wearing a suit with a Glock or a pair of cammies…with a badass M-16.

“Nice. I’d like to learn how to surf sometime. It looks so freeing.”
I cocked a brow. What an odd choice of words. “Freeing?”
“Yeah.” She stole a quick look at me, her cheeks pink. “Like…it’s just you and the ocean, and no one can tell you what to do or how to act. No one can yell at you for riding a wave, or just sitting out there, watching the world pass by. I don’t even really know how that feels, and I doubt I ever will.”

With a father like hers? Doubtful.

I’d resented being asked to come here to babysit some spoiled little brat, but seeing her look so despondent tugged at the little bit of heartstrings I had. “I’ll teach you, if you want.”

Fuck. Why had I opened my stupid mouth and blurted out that shit?

“Really?” She perked up, her shoulders straight and her sapphire blue eyes shining. She looked way too pretty right now. Way too much like a pretty woman, and not enough like an assignment. “Do you mean it?”

Hell no. “Sure. Why not?”

I could think of at least a hundred reasons why not. The last thing I needed was to spend time with her out in the ocean. She’d probably wear a tiny bikini underneath her wetsuit. And she’d cling to me in fear, her slender body pressed to mine as she learned how to ride the waves…

Maybe she would chicken out and say no.

“Can we start now?” she asked, practically shouting in my ear. She hopped off the bench and did a little dance thing that was way too fucking cute. Her whole body trembled with excitement. I could feel it rolling off her. “I’m game if you are.”

I choked on a laugh. So much for her chickening out. Some small part of me admired her enthusiasm. A lot of girls wavered and couldn’t make up their minds. I was getting the sinking suspicion she wasn’t that kind of girl. “I think we should do it when we can actually see what we’re doing.”

“Tomorrow morning?”

I scratched my head and scrunched my nose. “Uh, you’ll need a board, a bathing suit, and a wetsuit first.”

“I have a bathing suit already.” She cocked her head. “Wait. Does a bikini work, or does it have to be a one-piece?”

It was on the tip of my tongue to say she needed a one-piece. At least it would cover more of her skin, but she might find out I lied, and then she would start to question everything I told her. I couldn’t afford that right now. “Bikinis are fine. Preferred, even.”

She nibbled on her lower lip. “Would you go shopping with me tomorrow? Help me pick out the right gear? Then maybe we could head out to the waves.”

Shopping? Hell no. I didn’t want to go shopping. For girls, shopping was a marathon sport. I’d probably be dragged through ten stores before she could find the perfect color surfboard. And a matching wetsuit. And probably a fucking hair bow, too. “I’d love to.”

I forced a smile and tried to look on the bright side of things. I needed to spend time with her, and this would accomplish that. After the heinous shopping experience, I would be rewarded with surfing. It wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

“Thank you.” Her cheeks flushed and she gave me a shy smile. “Where should we meet?”

“At your dorm around eight?” I met her eyes. “Or is that too early for you, Ginger?”

She stiffened, the fetching pink color leaving her cheeks. That was probably a good thing, since she looked far too cute wearing a blush. There was that steely determination again. When she looked at me, her eyes flashing with challenge, she looked like her father. “I’ll be there. I don’t sleep in till twelve.”

“All right.” I inclined my head. “Then off to bed you go.”

She laughed. “You can’t send me to bed. Who do you think you are? My father?”

Hell no. But I worked for her father, so that had to count for something. “Hey, if you want to surf, you need to be well rested. If you’re hung over and tired, I’m not taking you.”

“I won’t be hung over.”

I eyed her cup, even though I knew damn well it didn’t have alcohol in it. “Tell that to the judge.”

“Fine. I’m going to bed.” She clamped her mouth and grabbed her shoes. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“I’ll walk you,” I offered, standing up. It would make me feel better to know she was safely ensconced behind locked doors before I went back to my apartment. It was my job, after all.

She flushed and ducked her head. “If you want to. But you can’t come in.”

She was probably thinking I wanted to walk her home to try to steal a kiss or cop a feel. Well, she could think that all she wanted. It wasn’t happening. In fact, it had been strictly forbidden. I had even gotten a lecture from the senator about what was allowed and what wasn’t— complete with a signed contract. As if I was a child who needed to be shown on a fucking doll where I could and couldn’t touch.

I shoved my hands in my pockets, feeling ridiculous. “I wasn’t planning on it.”

“Then why walk with me?” she asked, her head cocked.

“So I’ll know where to meet you tomorrow.” I shrugged. “Ya know, for our shopping.”

“Oh. Right.” She started walking, and I fell into step beside her while scanning the shadows for any threats. “I knew that.”

I laughed lightly. “Sure you did.”
“I can’t think of any other reason you’d want to walk me.”
I shook my head, then realized, like an idiot, I’d never asked her what her name was. If I accidentally blurted it out before she told me who she was, the gig would be up before I even got started. “What’s your name, anyway?”

“Carrie. Yours?”

She left off her last name just as her father instructed her to do. I could report back that she was following instructions like a good little girl. Although…walking with strange men she met on the beach after dark wasn’t exactly playing by the rules. But since it was with me, I would let the infraction slide this time.

“I’m Finn. Finn Coram.”

She gave me another smile. She looked so pretty, smiling at me in the moonlight. It would be a hell of a long year keeping the horny college boys off her. “Nice to meet you, Finn.”

“Back atcha, Carrie,” I said, forcing a grin. I hated acting like a foolish boy. Hated pretending to be something I wasn’t. “But I still prefer Ginger.”

She hesitated, licking her lips. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure. Go for it.”
“Why are you teaching me how to surf? What made you offer?” She stole a quick glance at me. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

Already, she was questioning my motives. My respect for her grew. This wasn’t a bimbo socialite. She knew to use caution, even if she wasn’t using enough of it. I shrugged. “Why not?”

“In my world, there’s always a reason.” She lifted a shoulder and stopped at a pathway leading to a big dorm. “So you’ve got to have one.” “Yeah, well, I don’t.” I leaned against the building next to hers and crossed my ankles. “This your building?”

She didn’t answer my question, but narrowed her eyes on me. “I’ll meet you out here at eight.”

“All right.”

She stared at me. I arched my brow in return, waiting to see what the hell she was waiting for. If it was a good night kiss, she would be waiting a hell of a long time. She tapped her foot. “You can go now,” she said.

“I’ll wait until you’re safely inside.”
Her foot stopped tapping and she glowered at me. Oh, yeah. She definitely took after her father. “And I’ll wait till you leave.”

We stared each other down, neither one of use seeming to want to be the one who looked away first. After a bit more of our little Mexican standoff, I chuckled. “I can do this all night, Ginger.”

“So can I.” She tilted her head and studied her nails. “You know, you’re starting to remind me of my father’s private security firm.” “Your father has private security? Or he works in it?”

She flushed. “Yeah, he has security.”

“None of your business. Is there something you want to tell me?”

“Of course not.” I laughed but shifted on my feet. She was way too close to the truth already. I would need to back down to remain undercover. “Do I look like private security?”

She ran her gaze over me. “Not really, but that doesn’t mean anything. You’re being awfully…protective.”

“Ya know, I’m a Marine. It’s kind of our thing to guard people.”

She pursed her lips. “Fair enough, but still. Go home before I call security on your butt.”

“There you go, bossing me around again.” I picked up a piece of her hair without intending to do so. It was so soft and pretty. “Fine, but I’ll see you right here in the morning.”

“Okay.” She nodded and bit her lower lip. “Bye.”

I dropped her hair and headed back toward the beach, where I could then hop on my motorcycle and ride back to my empty apartment. As I turned the corner, I stopped and peeked out. She headed toward her building, her head low and her steps unhurried. I pulled out my iPhone and jotted off a quick text to update the senator.

I’m here and have seen her. All is well.

As I slid the phone into my pocket without awaiting a reply, I watched her go with a smile on my face. The senator had obviously underestimated his daughter’s street smarts. Sure, she’d made a few blunders, but she’d also made some smart choices. She hadn’t given me her full name, and she’d lied to me to hide her true location in case I was some creepy stalker.

Her father would be proud.

 Chapter Three-Carrie

With only ten minutes to spare, I hurriedly applied the last touches to my lip gloss, checked out my hair, and turned off the bathroom light. If I had primped right, I looked effortlessly, naturally beautiful. That’s what the website said I would look like, anyway. I had never really bothered to primp for a boy, so I’d had to rely on my best friend for help.


Was it pathetic that I had no one else to ask? Sure. But at least Google never let me down. It had also given me the talk, the same one my mother avoided until right before I left for school. And when I’d finally been given the talk, it had been with so many euphemisms even I had become confused while trying to figure out what drumsticks had to do with warm apple pie.

I smoothed my tank top over my stomach. I had paired it with some yoga pants, and I wore my red bikini underneath the simple outfit just in case Finn wanted to go out in the water afterward. Tiptoeing past a snoring Marie, I managed to make it out of the dorm without waking her up.

I probably worried for nothing. I doubted a stampede of elephants would have woken Marie up. The girl had been snoring loud enough to wake the dead. Her arms were flung out to her sides, and a huge puddle of drool gathered under her cheek. She’d probably have a hell of a hangover when she woke up, so I had set my bottle of Motrin next to her bed on my way out.

I glanced at my phone and walked faster. A quick call home would be a good idea. That way I wouldn’t have to deal with my parents while out with Finn. I quickly dialed home and leaned against the wall. They picked up on the first ring, as if they’d been hovering by the phone waiting for me to call all morning.

“Hello?” Mom said.
A line clicked as Dad picked up the phone in his office. “Carrie?”
I smiled. “Hi, guys.”
“How’s college going?” Mom asked, her voice trembling.
“Have you met anyone nice yet?” Dad asked.
“Yeah.” I pictured Finn and smiled. “A couple of people.”
“What are their names?” Dad asked. I could picture him sitting at his desk, pencil in hand, waiting to look into anyone who dared say hello to me. “I’ll do a background check.”

“Dad. No.”
Mom sighed. “Let her be, dear.”
“Fine.” I heard something slam down. “But if you get involved with someone, I’ll expect to get his name from you.”

“She’s not going to do that yet.” Mom paused. “Right? We had our little talk. Do we need to have another one?”

I flinched. “God, no.” I cleared my throat. “I mean, uh, no, thank you.

I’m good. And I’m not seeing anyone yet. I’ve only been here two days.” Dad laughed. “That’s my girl.”
I peeked at the time. I had less than one minute to get downstairs.

“I’m about to go out with a friend of mine, though. Shopping.”
“Oh, how delightful.” Mom, of course, perked up at the word shopping. “Where are you going? What are you shopping for?”

“Do you need more money?” Dad threw in. “I can transfer more to your account.”

“No, I’m fine. And I’m shopping for…” I pictured the dead silence that would come if I said what I was really shopping for. It would be amusing for two-point-two seconds…until all hell broke loose. “I’m just shopping for fun. Hanging out and stuff.”

“But what for?” Mom asked.

Geez. Enough with the details already. “I think swimsuits and beach gear.”

“Oh, how fun.”

Dad yawned. “This is my cue to say goodbye. I’ve got meetings all day long.”

“Yeah, I have to go.” I gripped the phone tight. “I love you guys.” “We love you, too,” Mom said.
Dad mumbled something that might have been I love you, but he never said it, so it was doubtful. “Bye.” “Bye, dear.”

I hung up and headed outside. I needed to get down to the meeting point before Finn did, or he would see me come out of the correct building. He didn’t need to know where I lived. Didn’t need to know anything about me…yet. If he proved trustworthy, then I would tell him more. Little by little. But for now, I was just a girl who liked sitting on benches at night.

A girl who wanted to surf.

It was probably the one place private security couldn’t follow me. It’s not like a bunch of men in suits would blend in out there in the great big sea. As I crossed the lawn, I glanced around. No one lurked in the bushes. No one suspicious followed me. I didn’t believe my father gave in to my request to go to college minus a bodyguard, but I hadn’t seen any yet.

Was it possible he had trusted me enough to be on my own? Doubtful. When I had gone abroad last year, it had been with not one, not two, but three security guards. He was ridiculous when it came to my safety. He’d probably installed a GPS tracking system under my skin when I was a kid. I wouldn’t put it past him.

I rounded the corner and saw Finn standing there, facing the other way and looking as sexy as I remembered. I had thought he was gorgeous last night. Holy freaking bananas. In the morning light, his sun-kissed skin glinted and highlighted his hard muscles. Muscles covered in tats that begged to be stroked…by my hands. With his brown hair in as much disarray as it had been last night, he quite easily emanated the surfer look he wore so well.

Oh, so well.

As I approached, he smiled at me. “You’re two minutes late, but you look pretty enough that I’ll let it slide.”

My heart sped up at his backhanded compliment, but I refused to show it. I shrugged and said, “A girl’s gotta primp. Get used to it, Marine.”

“Especially girls like you?”

I stiffened. That sounded an awful lot like an insult. And even worse, it sounded as if he knew something about me that I didn’t want him to know. Did he know who I was? “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing.” He straightened, looking less like a laid-back surfer and more like a man. A man I didn’t know at all. Maybe this had been a bad idea. “You just look like the type of girl who likes to spend hours getting ready before she walks outside to get the mail. I mean, you’re gorgeous. Just look at you.”

“And you look like the type of guy who makes presumptuous assumptions about other people, while keeping your own nose firmly pointed in the air.” I marched past him. “Forget it. I’ll learn how to surf with someone else.”

He grasped my elbow as I passed, his touch burning me and yet somehow sending a shiver through my veins. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice soft. “I shouldn’t make assumptions. You’re right.”

“Damn right I am.” I tossed my hair over my shoulder and glared at him. Turns out, this close, his eyes were even bluer. Really, really blue. “Now let me go.”

He dropped his hand immediately and dragged it through his curls. “Can we start over? I get cranky before my coffee and say stupid things to beautiful women I’m supposed to be flirting with.”

My lips twitched. Truth was, so did I. Well, the first part, anyway. I usually didn’t bother to hit on pretty girls since I didn’t swing that way. “Okay. Coffee, then shopping?”

“Deal.” He motioned me forward as he walked beside me. “Where will we shop?” I asked.
“At a store? I hear that’s where most people do it.”
I laughed lightly and stopped at the coffee booth. “You’re weird.” “Aren’t we all in our own way?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” I nudged him with my elbow. God, he was solid. “But you’re weirder than most.”

He let me order my mocha latte before he stepped forward to order a plain black coffee. As I reached into my pocket to grab some cash for my portion of the order, he handed the barista his card. “I got you.”

A warm flush spread through my body. No one ever paid for me. The few people I had hung out with in school had always been relying on me for purchases, but no one here knew how much money I had. No one knew my father was on the short list for presidential candidates. The anonymity was a refreshing change of pace. “Thank you. I’ll get the next one.”

He shrugged. “If I let you have a next time. You might kill me with boredom during the shopping trip.”

“Haha. So funny.” I grinned, then decided to get some payback for the trick he’d played on me last night. “Do you think I can find a Swarovski-encrusted surfboard? I’m willing to go in every single store in San Diego if needed.”

“Oh, hell no.” He shot me an incredulous look and turned a little bit green. “Please tell me you’re kidding.”

I blinked innocently and managed to keep a straight face. “Is that a no?”

He grabbed our coffees and handed me the bigger one. Once I took it, he shoved his sunglasses up his nose. “No. It’s fucking fabulous.” He shot a quick look at me. “Oops. Sorry.”

“For what? Cursing?” I laughed at the absurdity of it. Who the heck apologized for cursing? “Sometimes I say fuck too. I’m not a little kid, you know.”

He took a sip of his coffee. How did he do that? I would have burnt my tongue. “It feels like you are at times. Like you could be my little sister or something.”

Sister? Ouch. Guess I knew where I stood with him. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.” He looked at me. “What about you? Are you jailbait?”

“No.” I looked down at my cup. How much should I tell him about myself? I wanted to make friends. To be normal for once, but I couldn’t be stupid. “I’m nineteen. I took a year off and went abroad before starting college.”

He took another sip of coffee. “That’s a good idea. It’s how I would have done it, if I’d gone the college route.”

I hesitated. I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries and had no idea what a friend should or should not say to that. Or if we even were friends yet. “You still could if you wanted to. Do you want to?”

“Maybe someday, when I have time.” He laughed. “Right now? I’m good in my career field.”

“Well, you never know. You might decide to go officer someday.”
He shot me a weird look. “Maybe.”
“There’s that word again.”
“It’s a good word, especially when life is filled with maybes.” He stopped in front of a surf shop on the beach. “This would be a good place to start. I can’t promise Swarovski, but there might be something pink.”

“I don’t do pink. It doesn’t match my hair.”

“Heaven forbid,” he said, holding the door open for me. “We can’t have that.”

“Darn right we can’t.” I ducked into the store and took a cautious look around. Surfboards of every imaginable color lined the left wall, while wetsuits filled up the other half. In the back, a bunch of boogie boards hung on the wood wall. Maybe boogie boarding would be a safer choice. It wasn’t too late to change my mind…

No. Not happening.

A blonde girl wearing a bikini underneath a transparent top stood behind the counter texting. She looked up when the bell on the door chimed, quickly assessing me before moving on to Finn—and staying there. She straightened and smoothed her hair. “Hello. Welcome to Surf ’s Up. What can I do for you?”

Finn smiled at her a little bit too widely, and his eyes dipped far too low to be staring at her face. Jerk. “My friend here needs a good beginner’s board.”

The girl looked at me again, but quickly turned back to Finn. “The blue one in the back is good for her. Perfect size.”

“You think?” Finn walked over to the board in question and cocked his head. I followed Finn, but practically got shoved aside by the worker. I struggled to right myself before I went legs over head in the rack of wetsuits, but Finn caught my elbow without even looking my way. “You should watch where you’re going, Ginger.”

“I told you.” I tried to pull free of his grip, but he didn’t budge. “Stop calling me that.”

Finn looked at me. “Why? It’s cute.”

“Says who?”

“Me.” He dropped his hold on me and turned back to the employee, who’d been watching him as if he was her next meal. “So this will work for her?”

The employee moved closer to Finn, brushing up against him. And Finn, the perv, didn’t move away. Of course not. He was a guy. The girl ran her fingers over the board, caressing it as if it was a person instead of an inanimate object. “Yes. The lines are smooth, and the finish flawless.”

“What do you think, Ginger?”

I rolled my eyes at the nickname, but didn’t bother to correct him again. No matter what I said, he would use it. “Sold. I’ll take it.”

Finn turned to me with wide eyes. “Really? That quick?”
“I don’t care what it looks like. If you say it’s good, it’s good.”
He tugged on his ear and looked at me as if I had sprouted two heads overnight or something. “All right. Next up? A suit.”

I turned to the employee, using the no-nonsense tone Dad used when he wanted shit to get done. “I’d like a blue and white one, to match the board.”

“Measurements?” The girl eyed me. “I’m guessing 32A?”
Total, petty lie. I was not a 32A, and it was obvious. “No, I’m—” “34C,” Finn replied, grinning. “Am I right?”
I blinked at him, taken off guard by that statement. Was it normal for a guy to know that crap? “Dude. What the heck is wrong with you? And why do you know that?”

“I’m kind of an expert in the frontal area.” Finn grinned, and his eyes sparkled. “It’s my thing.”

“Obviously,” I drawled, smiling.

He shrugged. I gave the rest of my measurements to the worker, and within ten minutes we were finished shopping. I carried my wetsuit and coffee, and he carried my board for me. I headed toward the ocean, so eager to hit the water I could barely stand still, and then sat down on a bench. He eyed me, but didn’t sit. “That was a hell of a lot faster than I expected. I didn’t even bring my board with me.”

I took a sip of my coffee and watched the waves crashing on the sand. A surfer effortlessly rode one in, and a bunch more of them bobbed out in the water. They made it look so easy. So simple. I knew it was anything but. What the heck was I thinking? I couldn’t do this, could I? If my father knew…

I straightened my back. The hell with that. I was going for it. The fact that my father didn’t approve only made me want it more. Childish? Sure. Who cared? I was allowed a little bit of rebellion now and then. “Do you want to go to your place and get it?”

“I could, I guess.” He looked over his shoulder toward the road. “Do you want to wait here for me?”

“Can’t I come?”

He hesitated, shifting on his feet. “I only have a motorcycle. I’m not sure you want to ride that.”

A motorcycle? Hell to the yes. Dad called bikes donor cycles. Told me if I ever even thought about setting foot within ten feet of one, he’d ground me for life. I wasn’t ground-able anymore, was I? God, this freedom I now had was exhilarating. A girl could get used to this kind of life. “Oh, I’d love that.”

“Seriously?” he asked, looking a little pale. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

I propped my hand on my hip and stood. “Why not?”
“I only have one helmet.”
“So what? I’ll be fine. I trust you.”
He looked up at the sky. “You might,” he mumbled under his breath.

Then he perked up. “What will we do with your board?”
“I’ll have the store hold it for me.”
He sighed. “I guess I’m out of arguments.”
“I guess so,” I said cheerily, my heart accelerating at the mere thought of climbing on a bike with Finn. “Cheer up. You’re acting like my dad again.”

He stiffened. “Stop saying that.”

“Then stop acting like him,” I said, smiling to show I was teasing him. “You better be here when I come back out, or I’ll skin you alive.”

I grabbed my stuff and headed toward the store. After a quick conversation with the employee, I came back out and found Finn standing there, his hands in his pockets and his shoulders hunched. I held my hand out and waited for him to take it with bated breath. I don’t know why I did that. We weren’t dating. We weren’t even friends yet. I couldn’t resist. He stared at my hand for a second, muttered something under his breath, and closed his fingers around mine. A shot of electricity skittered up my arm, making me jump slightly.

What the heck had that been?

His eyes darkened and something weird twisted in my belly in response. Something I was only loosely familiar with. Desire. I was a virgin, but I’d read about sex enough times to recognize the sensation. And I would bet my favorite pair of Converses that he was feeling it, too.

“Ready?” he asked, his voice deeper than usual.

“So ready,” I said, peeking up at him through my lashes. “I’ve always wanted to ride one, but my dad wouldn’t let me.”

He perked up. “Maybe we shouldn’t. You know, if your dad would be mad.”

“Oh, please. I’m nineteen.” I tugged him toward a Harley I could only assume was his. “I’ll ride what I want to ride.”

He groaned under his breath. “I bet you will.” When we reached the bike, he grabbed the helmet off the handle and slid it over my head. I tried to pull back, not wanting to wear the ugly thing in front of him, but he didn’t let me. “My bike. My rules. You wear the helmet.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll be fine.” He gently slid the helmet the rest of the way down over my head, making sure to keep my hair out of my eyes as he did so. My heart did a weird little flip flop at the way he watched me, his eyes hot and his lips soft. His touch, gentle as it might seem, held a strength behind it.

“How do I look?”

“Perfect,” he said lightly. Then he climbed onto the bike and looked over his shoulder at me. That look he gave me was the look that so many books described. Like he was inviting me to fall into his arms and stay there forever. God, I wanted to. His muscles flexed, teasing me with his perfection. “Climb on and hold on as tight as you can.”

I swallowed hard and slid on the back of the bike

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About the author:

DianeAlbertsAuthorPicJen McLaughlin writes steamy New Adult books for the young and young at heart. Her first release, Out of Line, is due out September 2013. She also writes Contemporary Romance under the pen name Diane Alberts. She is a multi-published, bestselling author and is represented by Louise Fury from the L. Perkins Agency. Since receiving her first contract offer under the pen name Diane Alberts, she has yet to stop writing.

Though she lives in the mountains, she really wishes she was surrounded by a hot, sunny beach with crystal clear water. She lives in Northeast Pennsylvania with her four kids, a husband, a schnauzer mutt, a cat, and a Senegal parrot. In the rare moments when she’s not writing, she can usually be found hunched over one knitting project or another. Her goal is too write so many well-crafted romance books that even a non-romance reader will know her name.


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