He set down his backpack against the wall and got into line behind another team. I studied him, then noticed a camera hovering nearby.
Make good TV, Abby had warned me. They’ll fix stuff in your direction to keep you on.
And the silent treatment between us? Not really good TV. Plus, it bothered me that Liam and I had come to a sort of understanding earlier, and we had almost had…fun.
Except I’d gone and blown things by making a comment about how quiet he was. So I needed to fix things, and I needed to make good TV. Somehow.
I considered this as I waited with our bags. The other person finished smooching the rock, and then it was Liam’s turn. They carefully lowered him backward to the stone and he kissed it, then came back up a moment later. He got to his feet in an easy, fluid motion, and someone handed him a disk. Instead of reading it, he immediately headed for me so we could read it together.
He was like night and day from Brodie, really. And for the first time, I really, really wanted to make this work. And make good TV. And I kept thinking about how I’d misinterpreted the whole Blarney Stone thing, and how I’d been a bit disappointed when I realized that we wouldn’t be kissing after all. And that was a little weirdly disappointing. I mean, wouldn’t a kiss make great TV? I thought so.
He came to my side and held his hand out for his backpack.
I threw my arms around his neck and planted my mouth on his.
It was impulsive and a little crazy. Okay, a lot crazy. But I didn’t care. I kissed him, pressing my lips against his and feeling the bite of metal at the edges of his mouth. For some reason, that was a bit erotic, and it distracted me.
It was, however, not half as erotic as when his tongue snaked out and brushed against my lower lip.
I was so startled by that, I almost stopped kissing him. Instead, I made a small noise of surprise in my throat, and my mouth softened. His tongue dipped into my mouth, and I felt a tongue stud brush against my own smooth tongue. And oh god, that was…really good.
"Guess he’s sharin’ his gift o’ gab," someone called out merrily behind us, accent thick.
"Sharin’ somethin’," someone else commented.
I broke apart from Liam, my face flushing. "Um…good job," I told him, brushing my fingers along the edges of my lips thoughtfully.
He stared down at me, as if trying to figure me out. After a long moment, he said nothing and simply handed me the disk.
I took it in trembling hands and flipped it over to read. "Drive your way," I began, but I noticed he was leaning in close, and I could practically feel his breath on my skin. My voice was squeaky and weird, and I had to clear my throat and start again. "Drive your way to Trinity College in Dublin. Head to the College Library and you will receive your next task there."
"Shall we go, then?" Liam’s voice was low, and just a bit husky.
"Sure." I didn’t know what else to say, and there was the weirdest blush on my cheeks. "Sure," I repeated, and didn’t protest when he grabbed my backpack again.
The drive to Trinity College took a few hours, and they were weird hours. Neither myself nor Liam were in a chatty mood. We’d gone back to our efficient sort of quiet, speaking only when directions needed to be given or to speculate about the race.
I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t blame him for being silent. We’d gone from hating each other last night in the igloo to practically making out atop Blarney Castle this morning. He probably thought I was nuts.
Hell, I wasn’t sure that I wasn’t nuts.
I did keep playing with my lip as he drove, though, thinking of the feel of the metal in his mouth against mine. His lips had been soft in contrast to that. The lip ring on his lower lip had pressed into my skin, and I’d felt that tongue stud graze against my tongue in a way that had made me dazed. I’d known that he’d had it, but I just hadn’t thought about it when it came to kissing.
And now I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
"Almost there," Liam told me in his quiet voice, breaking my reverie. His dark gaze locked on my face via the rearview mirror.
I put my hand down, realizing with a slight flush that he’d caught me playing with my mouth. “Great.”
"I see two other cars," he told me as he pulled into parking.
"Maybe we’ll see Tesla and Brodie," I told him. And then a horrible thought occurred to me. What if Liam and Tesla were an item? Oh god, and I’d kissed him on national TV. No wonder he’d stiffened up like that. No wonder he was acting weird now.
But…I was also pretty sure he’d kissed me back. It was mystifying.
We grabbed our bags, and he carried mine again, despite my protests. With our gear in hand, we hiked across the campus, following The World Races signs toward the library. Several red-brick structures surrounded us, and as we headed to one massive building, I wasn’t sure that it was the right place. It seemed too large to be a library.
Of course, as soon as we opened the doors, I changed my mind.
The breath escaped me. Holy cow, that was a lot of books. I stared in fascination as I walked in, surprised at just how many books were in this building. Row after row after row of bookshelves lined up as far as the eye could see, neatly cordoned off by red velvet ropes. Each aisle had a bust of someone old or famous at the end, and when I looked up, I could see that there was a second floor of even more books.
"Wow," I said.
"I hope you don’t have to find a particular book," Liam told me in a quiet voice, staring around us. He looked equally impressed.
"Oh god, I hope not, too. I’m a baker, not a librarian," I told him.
"A baker, huh?" He seemed amused by that. "I’d have guessed camp counselor with the pigtails."
I rolled my eyes. "The pigtails were a casting decision."
He chuckled. "They’re cute."
Cute? Was he flirting with me? I cast him a look, but he was pointing down the long alley of bookshelves. "I see our guy."
I followed his gaze and sure enough, there was The World Races flag. We picked up the pace, stepped onto the mat, and retrieved our next disk.
"This challenge is mine since you did the last one," I told Liam, and began to read the disk. "The Trinity College Library is home to the famous Book of Kells, one of the most ornately decorated manuscripts ever found. Using the materials provided to you, you will recreate the page that the book is currently open to. A judge will decide if your copy is worthy. When you are approved, you will receive directions to the finish line for this leg of the race."
"You good at painting?" Liam asked, glancing down at me. I could have sworn there was a hint of an amused sparkle in those dark eyes.
I rolled up my sleeves, grinning. "Dude, I frost cupcakes on a regular basis. I am ace at painting. Just watch me."
"Don’t get cocky," he told me, but there was a teasing note in his voice.
I simply grinned and headed for the roped off area. There were three other contestants there, and as I watched, Steffi from the purple team handed her page to the judge, who laid it down on the table, scrutinized it with a magnifying glass, and then shook his head. "No."
Okay, so this wouldn’t be easy. I headed to the table set up for me and peered down at the materials, taking a quick assessment of things. Paints in small pots were neatly lined up on the far end of the table, along with multiple brushes. A long piece of thick, weird paper had been laid out on the table, and as I leaned over it, I saw that a drawing had already been done on the paper. It was crazy ornate, too, with a jillion lines and swirls moving back and forth, all in black and white. Obviously our job was to color it to match the Book of Kells. I studied it for a moment, and then looked around for the book.
Off in the distance, there was a roped off section. I watched as Summer got in line again, headed straight to the glass-case covered book, stared at it for a long while, her lips moving, and then raced back to her table to return to her page. So this was coloring and memorization. There had to be a smart way to do this. I stared down at the paper a moment longer. It reminded me of paint by numbers. All right then, I’d treat it like that. I raced to get in line to view the book, and when the contestant in front of me was done, I moved up to the podium.
And stared. The book was gorgeous. Illuminated by a soft light, the book was opened to a page of one of the Apostles, his head crowned by a golden glow. He held up a hand and cupped an object in it, and his robes were a heavy blue. I studied the colors for a moment, then decided to tackle it one color at a time. I’d start with gold. Crown, I told myself, then looked for other bits of gold. Sandals, sparkles in the sky, and the border. Repeating this to myself, I ran back to my page and dipped a paint brush, then blobbed the appropriate pieces.
Each object in the picture had been broken into several different sections – no doubt to try and throw us off, so I dabbed a bit of the appropriate paint color in each section, then set my brush down and returned to the painting. I’d do blue next, and then work my way through all the colors, so I’d know I was right. It’d take some time in advance, but it’d pay off when I only had to do it once. Even now, I watched another person – Myrna – call over the judge, only to be told ‘no’ right away. This challenge was about accuracy.
So I returned to the book and looked for blue. Then red. Then green. Then black. Then the smaller, less numerous colors. I took my time, carefully dotting each color on my page. Sometimes I had to return once or twice to the book, unsure of the block I was looking at, so I just skipped that and checked it the next time I went. By the time I had most of my picture blocked out, the three teams that had started at the challenge were still there, and the last two had arrived.
I wasn’t flustered, though. I had this. I leaned over my table and began to carefully paint in the boxes I had marked, taking my time with each one. I had careful, steady hands, thanks to my practice icing and decorating delicate cupcakes and wedding cakes. I was fast, and I was steady, and I was totally rocking this challenge. When my back began to cramp up from leaning, I got up and headed to the book again, filling in the last few blanks.
At last, my picture was done. I carefully lifted it from the frame, holding it so it wouldn’t smear, and shot a triumphant look at Liam. He stood with the other teammates, looking cool and casual, but as I glanced over at him, I saw him give me a subtle thumbs-up.
I brought it to the judging stand and laid it flat to be judged. The judge pulled out his magnifying glass and began to pore over my finished painting. He took so long to study it that I was sure he was going to find fault, and my stomach dropped. Had I missed something? Had I dripped into the wrong box? I watched him, holding my breath.
He straightened, looked at me, and then nodded. "Good job." And he held out my disk.
I bounced with excitement and hugged him. "Thank you! Thank you!" I grabbed the disk and dashed to Liam, and on impulse, hugged him too.
Liam seemed surprised by that, but after a moment, he hugged me back. The other teams clapped politely, but I could tell they were nervous that we had already finished.
"Let’s go outside and read this," Liam told me, whispering in my ear.
We grabbed our bags and headed outside, and I flipped over the clue. "Make your way to the Shelbourne Dublin. Bring all disks with you so you may cross the finish line." I looked up at Liam. "The Shelbourne Dublin? It sounds like a hotel."