Spirit Page 11

He smiled.

My name is Hunter. Where you from?

This time, her response appeared immediately.

Just transferred from St. Mary’s in Annapolis.

Now he was imagining her in a little plaid skirt and knee-high socks.

Another text appeared.

Stop imagining me in the outfit.

He grinned.

How did you know?

You’re a boy.

I’m still waiting to hear your theory on piercings.

Right. IMO, you have to be crazy hot to pull off either piercings or tattoos. Otherwise you’re just enhancing the ugly.

Hunter stared at the phone, wondering if she was hitting on him—or insulting him. Before he could figure it out, another message appeared.

What does the tattoo on your arm say?

He slid his fingers across the keys.

It says “ask me about this tattoo.”


Mission accomplished, I’d say.

He heard a small sound from her direction and peeked over. She was still staring at her phone, but she had a smile on her face, like she was trying to stifle a giggle.

Mission accomplished, he’d say.


A million and one worries should have been clouding Hunter’s brain.

Instead, he spent all of fourth period texting with Kate.

And most of fifth period, too.

After World History, he’d been ready to finish their conversation live—but she slipped out the door without even looking at him. He’d stood in the hallway and watched her cut through the crowds of students, somewhat dumbfounded. Had he misread all those text messages? Maybe she hadn’t been flirting at all. Had she just been killing time?

Then his phone had buzzed in his hand.

Again with the staring?

He’d never met a girl who could send his heart tripping with a few words on a screen.

Now he was headed for the cafeteria with a shadow of a smile on his lips—and a shadow of doubt coiled in his chest. He’d sent her a text:

Want to stare at each other over a table at lunch?

But she hadn’t responded.

Maybe it was better if she didn’t want to sit with him. He could confront Becca or the Merricks and get them to carry some of the weight of Calla’s threats.

He checked his phone while he waited to grab a tray for the line.


Hunter sighed and slid it into his pocket, taking an apple, a plate of grilled chicken and greens, and a bowl of vegetable soup. He didn’t have to wait for any of it—there was never a line for this stuff. But over by the tater tots, you’d think they were giving food away.

When he turned away from the register, Calla was suddenly there, in front of him. She had a soda in one hand and a wicked look in her eye.

He scowled and moved to step past her.

But she ran her shoulder into his and shrieked, stumbling back and dropping her soda. “Don’t threaten me, Hunter!”

One of the assistant football coaches was on cafeteria duty and headed their way. “What’s going on?”

Hunter gritted his teeth and backed away from her. “Nothing.”

“He shoved me!”

“I didn’t touch her!”

The coach put a restraining hand on Hunter’s shoulder—even though he hadn’t moved an inch. “Just keep walking. Cool off.”

Calla dissolved into tears. People were staring. Another girl from the volleyball team came up and pulled Calla away, whispering reassurances while throwing a murderous glance at Hunter.

It had taken Calla less than three seconds to completely derail his day. Again.

Hunter sighed through clenched teeth and turned to head for the back of the cafeteria.

Only to meet Kate’s eyes from twenty feet away.

One look at her expression said she’d seen the whole thing.

Well, definitely not the whole thing. Just enough to leave her staring with judgment on her face.

There went that.

At least she’d found a cure for his staring. He couldn’t meet her eyes knowing she thought he was a guy like . . . like that. He faced forward and kept walking, his hands gripping his tray so hard the surface of the soup was trembling.

His insides felt like a coiled spring, one rotation away from snapping. He kept his movement measured and even, but in his brain, every step was a prelude to a lethal strike. He’d never been one of those guys to hit the gym in the middle of the day, but right now he’d kill for a pair of wraps and a heavy bag.

He forced himself to take a long breath, letting it out slowly, forcing his hands to relax while he walked.

“Hey, Jackass. Hungry?” A hand hit the edge of the tray and flipped it up.

Hunter jerked back. The chicken and salad missed him.

The soup didn’t. Hot liquid hit him square in the chest.

That spring snapped. Hunter whirled and threw a fist.

Gabriel Merrick hit him back.

Hunter stepped into the punch, using his opponent’s momentum to trap his arm and send a knee into his gut.

Then they were being dragged apart. Too soon. Hunter tasted blood on his lip—but he let himself be dragged.

That assistant football coach got between them, and he was talking, though Hunter wasn’t really listening. Something about fighting and the guidance office and . . . Hunter didn’t give a crap.

His eyes were on Kate, standing there among the gathered crowd, next to Nick Merrick, Gabriel’s twin.

Nick was talking, his tone full of an almost resigned exasperation. “So now you’ve met my other brother, Gabriel . . .”

Hunter wasn’t listening to him, either.

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