“Yeah. Thought you should know I got expelled from my last school for fighting. I got no problems taking hits.”
“Then prove it.”
“Take the swing, ass**le.” I’m not going to be accused of jumping a man from behind.
The air hums with pissed-off energy. Matt shoves his chest out, arms poised to come up, then a guy says, “Principal.”
Matt backs off and I follow his lead. Some old man in a gray suit watches us as he heads for the food line.
“New boy,” says Matt. “We don’t fight in school, but the moment the bell rings, your ass is mine.”
Haley angles to become a human shield in front of me. “No.”
“Haley.” My blood boils that she’s begging this bastard for anything. Does she honestly think I’m that weak? “I got this.”
“Listen to her, Matt,” Conner butts in.
“What?” Matt asks.
“One of us should fight him in the cage. You know, make it public humiliation. Best man wins and all that shit.”
Haley tunnels her fingers into her hair and clutches it as if to yank it out. “He’s not a fighter. It won’t be fair.”
“I can fight,” I snap, but not one of them acknowledges me.
“If he can’t take the hits, then he shouldn’t have messed with one of us,” says Matt.
“Matthew.” The pure desperation in her tone causes everyone to freeze. “I swear to you he didn’t know.”
The looks, the stares. All of them doubting me because Haley’s basically signed in blood that I’m incapable of holding my own. I’ve got four months in this school and I’ll be damned if she’ll be protecting me the entire time. “Name the day and time.”
Conner motions to Matt with his sprained hand as if deciding whether to have cheese on a burger. “The tournament in two months. I get the hand healed and then the two of us go at it.”
Matt nods. “All right. Are you in, New Boy, or are you chickenshit?”
I smile. An adrenaline rush floods my veins. This is possibly the craziest and the most alive I’ve felt in years. “Looking forward to it.”
The bell rings, ending lunch. Matt and his pack of wolves leave the table.
Haley closes her eyes and lowers her head into her hands. Not the reaction I hoped for.
I’m second bus run. When we lived in our old house, my home, I was first. That was back when things were simpler. Back before I started dating Matt and when Jax, Kaden and I weren’t at each other’s throats. Back when they could at least look at me…unlike now. Today, when they left to hop the city bus to train at the gym, they didn’t even mumble goodbye.
I sit away from everyone else. After my breakup with Matt, I can honestly say I don’t mind being alone. His version of attention left scars. I suck in a deep breath, missing the relationship I had with Jax and Kaden. Even worse? I miss who I used to be.
Both my knees bounce as I wait on the bench outside the loading dock. Blowing warm air onto my hands no longer helps. They’re frozen for good. We go so many days without seeing the sun during the winter it’s easy to believe it no longer exists.
My heart stalls at the sound of West’s voice. Dear God, is he always so gorgeous? Especially now with his hat on backward and those ocean-blue eyes twinkling at me. Teeny-tiny wings flutter in my chest when he drops onto the bench beside me. He’s close. Superclose. Like his jeans touching mine close. Heat rolls off his body and I sort of crave to snuggle up to him and steal his warmth.
“West,” I respond. Good girl. Act casual.
I should move. At least an inch. Prove to us both that I have an inkling of self-respect. But I don’t. He’s warm and…well…dammit, he’s cute. I rub my hands together, half wondering if I should thank him for what happened at lunch or if I should punch him for getting involved or if I should press my fingers to his face and save myself from frostbite amputation. I seriously want to do all three.
“Would you like a lift?” he asks.
“You really don’t listen, do you?” I try to bend my fingers, but they’re so cold they’re swollen. “I told you Friday I don’t ride with strangers.”
“Well, you are my girlfriend.”
I choke on the laugh that bubbles up my throat. West smiles and I have to admit it’s a sweet sight on his face.
“You realize,” I say, “that after what happened at lunch we’re both undeniably screwed.”
“It was an interesting first day.” He stands and extends his hand. “Come on—let me drive you home.”
I accept the offer and I hate the way my insides palpitate when his fingers wrap around mine.
“Jesus, your hands are ice cubes.” West’s hand flinches away from mine, and, with red cheeks, I pull my hand back, but West denies my retreat and reclaims my fingers.
“Don’t. It’s okay.” I yank to free myself, but I’m unsuccessful. “I’m just cold.”
“No shit. Gloves could help.”
I don’t have gloves. If I did, I’d wear them, but I lost them when we lost the storage unit. Ticked off by the reminder, I start to inform West the exact route to hell he can take when he draws my hand toward his lips.
The world stills when he opens his mouth and blows hot air onto my skin. My eyes widen, my toes curl and my blood explodes with heat. Holy freaking crap.
Staring straight into my eyes, he blows onto my hand again. My fingers tingle with the warmth, with his touch. His thumb sweeps over my skin and my heart skips too many beats.
“You’ve got smooth skin,” he murmurs.
“Yeah,” I whisper. Yeah.
Um…what? I blink. We are overly close, like if either of us moved, clothes would be against clothes, and I like the thought of his body brushing against mine way more than I should. I extract my hand from his. “I don’t mind cold hands.”
He smirks. “You don’t?”
“No, I don’t.” I beeline it for his car and moronically stumble over a parking curb. Then, for giggles, I trip over my own feet. At least I stay upright—barely. “They’re always cold, even in the summer.”
West says nothing as he walks beside me, but he does watch me with an amused grin. Twice his hand flies out to grab me if I should fall. I hate him. I like him. I wish I wasn’t so pathetic.
“I’m used to it.” I glance around, wishing Marissa would pop out of thin air because friends shouldn’t let friends ramble and stumble. I massage the hand he blew on. It’s like the skin there is now hypersensitive. “It’s not a big deal since it’s normal.”