Breathless Page 2

Tensions had been running high in Quinn’s house before a fire had burned the place down—part of a string of arson attacks started by another Elemental in town. But now her family was living in temporary housing, a cramped three-bedroom condo closer to Annapolis.

And Nick thought he had problems.

He didn’t hear the front door open, but the air told him when Michael was home.

It also told him that Chris and Becca were struggling to right themselves in the living room.

Nick smiled and entered the last invoice into the computer, then set aside the three where payments were missing.

Michael looked beat when he walked into the kitchen, and Nick was glad he’d gotten the paperwork done.

His brother grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and dropped into a chair. “Thanks for taking care of that.”

Nick always did, but he shrugged. “It’s nothing.”

“You think you could help me with a job tomorrow, since school is out?”

Nick had been planning to spend the day doing more college applications, tweaking entrance essays, and taking a few more SAT practice tests.

But Michael looked exhausted, and Nick could put that stuff off for a few hours. “Sure,” he said. Then he paused, thinking of Quinn. “You think you could let me borrow the truck for an hour?”

Michael had to be tired, because he took another drink of water, then tossed the keys on the table.

Nick’s eyebrows went up.

Michael shrugged, then shoved out of the chair, heading for the doorway. “I know you won’t do anything irresponsible.”

Nick never did.

And sometimes he wondered if that was part of the problem.

Quinn Briscoe stretched her left leg against the barre in the empty room, then folded her upper body as low as she could. She didn’t do ballet, not really, but she’d taken enough classes as a kid that she always started and finished with a classical warm-up—just because that was the most thorough routine she knew, and it hadn’t let her down yet.

Her thighs were screaming, and she told them to go to hell.

Really, she wished she’d worn sweatpants instead of these stretchy booty shorts. Then she wouldn’t have to look at how massive her legs were.

Besides, it was probably cold outside.

The shorts hadn’t been her choice. They were part of the cheerleading uniform at Old Mill, and she’d had her first practice this afternoon. Apparently athletes didn’t get the week off from school, just a modified schedule.

For five minutes, Quinn had allowed herself to be excited about the cheer squad. It wasn’t her type of thing, not really, but she’d been kicked off the dance team for being mouthy—and too fat, she was sure, given the teacher’s comments about body type—and cheerleading seemed like the next best thing.

Then Taylor Morrisey, squad captain, started calling her “Crisco,” a mockery of her last name.

The other girls had started doing the same.

Quinn had flipped off Taylor and stormed out of there—only to go home to find out that Jake, her older brother, was home from college for a few days.

That wasn’t the problem. Quinn accepted his existence, just like she did the rest of her family.

But her mother had told Jake he could sleep in Quinn’s bed, and Quinn could make do on the floor.

And instead of refusing out of chivalry or kindness or whatever boys were supposed to do, Jake had smirked at her and said, “Yeah, isn’t that where dogs usually sleep?”

Quinn had lost it. Moreover, her mom had taken Jake’s side. Of course perfect, scholarship-winning, Duke-basketball-playing Jake couldn’t sleep on the couch.

Of course their argument had devolved into a screaming match.

Of course Quinn had walked out. Again.

And she was getting sick of crashing at Becca’s, watching her best friend’s perfect relationship with her mom and her perfect relationship with Chris Merrick.

Quinn switched legs and stretched farther. R&B music pulsed into her head through the earbuds connected to her iPod, completely at odds with the classical routine, but she thrived on the rage in the lyrics.

The music caught her, and she spun off the barre, flying across the floor in a complicated routine of leaps and turns. Each step let her spring higher, until it felt like the air became a part of the dance and carried her along.

Then the song ended, and she was staring at herself in the smudgy mirror, her chest rising and falling from the exertion.

God, her thighs looked massive.

She scowled and turned away so she wouldn’t have to look at herself.

Only to find Nick Merrick standing in the doorway.

Quinn stopped short and yanked the earbuds free, feeling heat crawl up her neck. She wasn’t shy about boys, but her rage-inspired dancing felt like it should be private.

No, indulging her own insecurities felt like it should be private.

“How long have you been there?” she demanded.

“A minute or so,” he said equably. “I wasn’t exactly timing myself.”

Nick was quite possibly the only guy she’d ever met who seemed completely unaffected by her attitude.

Years of putting up with his twin probably had something to do with it.

But it was enough to make her want to be nicer. She coiled up the headphones in her palm and turned for her bag. “Sorry. You took me by surprise.”

“You seemed into it. I didn’t want to interrupt.” He paused, then came closer. “I was wishing I could hear the music.”

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