Series: Oxley College Saga #2
Author: Stacey Nash
Release Date: April 20, 2015
Jordan Hays knows just how precious life is; that’s why he has his own mapped out. He’ll work to pay his way through university while he studies hard, regardless of the constant distractions. Because when it comes to becoming a nurse, he’s deadly serious. He won’t fail to save someone again.
But Hex Penton is way too similar to the sister he lost, and even though the only thing more fun than stupid dares is the crazy girl who sets them, Jordan needs to make a choice. Hex believes every moment is important; every opportunity must be taken, because you never know when the world will be yanked out from underneath you. With the foundations he’s based his life on shaken, Jordan must discover what’s more important: making sure Hex’s life isn’t wasted, or remembering how to live his.
It’s time to play truth or dare.
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Admiring my nails, which were longer than they’d ever been, I poured myself a liberal splash of vodka and mixed it with lemonade. Liquid courage, that’s what this was, and I’d only need one more then I’d be right to head downstairs to the party that was happening tonight. I didn’t bother with the stupid meet-and-greet the senior guy said I must to attend. Mum had only just left by the time five rolled around and I’d wanted to catch a quick nap since we’d had an early start.
From my window, I could see people filling the courtyard. The music blared loudly, dead opposite to the voices, I assumed. Everyone looked a little awkward, standing around, cradling plastic cups as if they were scared of each other. It wasn’t hard to pick out the seniors. They all rocked massive smiles and worked the crowd.
I tipped my head back and downed the drink in a single gulp. Well, only one way to make this crap downstairs bearable. Eeesh. The drink practically stole my breath. I must have made it a bit strong.
A quick look in the mirror and everything was in place—my hair looked pretty decent, shorts weren’t riding up my butt, and all the essentials were tucked away beneath my tank top. Everyone had said it was going to be freaking freezing here in Armidale, but so far it was like living in a sauna. The air felt thick and hot, and that sun had one heck of a bite. Good thing it was sinking now, so my shoulders wouldn’t burn. Again. They already stung from the rays they’d seen while we lugged my stuff in from the car this afternoon.
Right. I drew in a deep breath, and squared my shoulders. This would be a piece of cake. I tucked my room key into my bra and snuck one last look out the window at the courtyard below. People. Easy-peasy.
Before I could over-think the whole thing, I yanked open the thick wooden door and stumbled as it caught my heel on the way out. Good thing my Docs were solid. Those fashionable strappy sandals everyone wore this summer wouldn’t have saved my bony ankle from certain destruction.
All the doors in the hall stood closed, marking my dorm floor as dead empty. I’d heard voices earlier this afternoon, but whoever it was must be down there already. The resident senior had said there were three first years on this floor. It was a pity there was no way of telling which rooms were occupied. The other rooms would fill up later in the week when the senior students returned—right now only the resident seniors were here—so I’d find out who lived where soon enough.
Good God, I was still stalling—standing here, staring at closed doors like a freaking lunatic. Before I could conjure any more time-wasting thoughts, I stepped out of the hall and into the stairwell.
Music from the courtyard echoed all the way up the structure, bouncing off the concrete walls and tiled stairs as if they were made for this very purpose. The music wasn’t too bad. Not top forty, but not golden oldies either. Good party tunes.
As I emerged into the throng of it, I plastered on the friendliest smile I could muster. It turned out I didn’t need to seek out someone to make me look less alone, because my block senior, Jason Donagan, marched up to me with a mock scowl. “Where were you?”
I shrugged. “Sorry.”
“Well, you missed out on meeting the other freshers in our block.” He waggled a finger in a fake scold.
“Looks like you need a drink.”
“Ahh, yeah. That’d be great, thanks.”
He disappeared into the crowd, which wasn’t as thin as it had looked from my window. People were scattered around in small groups, looking awkward. Some girl caught my attention from over by a wooden picnic table. Dark hair that almost reached her waist swished as she swayed to the music, seemingly without notice, since her focus and smile were both set on me. Maybe she’d be a good one to start with. Before I could make a move, another girl bounced in front of me, grabbing my arm as if we were best buds. “I’m-Amber-and-you-have-awesome-hair.”
It took me a second to make out what she was saying, she spoke so fast. I fingered the blue tips of my shoulder-length brown hair. The colour had been freshly applied this morning. “Thanks.”
With her arm hooked through mine, she piloted me toward the largest group of people, which held the dark haired girl. She gave me a massive smile; her and Amber must already be friends.
“Hey everyone,” Amber cooed, “meet my new friend …”
“Hex,” I answered.
“Hex,” she mimicked. “Where are you from?”
“Umm …” It wasn’t a trick question, so why was I stumbling? “North.”
“Ahh, a coastie.”
“Not quite, it’s more inland—”
The other girl extended a slender hand. “McKenzie. Second year applied science. I’m on the social committee, so I could crash o-week.”
Jason reappeared and passed me one of the plastic cups everyone else seemed to have. I shot him a grateful smile and swallowed its contents in two gulps.
Jason whooped. “Looks like you’ve been here before, Hex.”
The evening wore on much the same, meeting new face after new face. With so many names I’d be lucky to remember two or three come morning. Amber remained glued to my side, and after only an hour in her company I was certain we’d wind up good friends. The girl sure was fun and seemed to draw in a crowd with her bubbly voice.
The drinks flowed steadily, but there wasn’t so much that people got plastered. The music lulled and a song I knew well blared to life. I grabbed Amber’s hand and pulled her up onto one of the long wooden picnic tables in a corner of the courtyard. She squealed the second she realised what I was up to, and in three seconds flat had her hands above her head, her eyes closed, as she shimmied her body like a pro. I’d definitely found a new friend. Someone wolf whistled below us, but I drowned them all out with my singing.
When the music ended a chant filled the air.
He-ex. He-ex. He-ex.
I grinned as I took a plastic cup some guy held up to me. Amber joined in the chant and it was obvious they wanted me to drink. I yelled, “Bottom’s up,” and tipped the entire contents of the cup into my mouth. Amber’s name came next and she followed my lead, giving the people what they wanted.
My legs felt the effects of my earlier drinks, but it was all good. Until Amber decided it was time to climb down. She stumbled to the side, and we both grabbed hold of each other at the same moment, me saving her from falling. She laughed as if it were the funniest thing ever. A laugh that was the most contagious I’d ever come across. I burst into a fit of giggles as we both stood there, clutching each other by the arms.
Another cup of beer appeared in front of me. The hand holding it, attached to a random guy I hadn’t met. I accepted the drink with thanks, a giggling Amber still clinging to my side.
It took a good few minutes before we finally pulled ourselves together. Sucking back a lungful of hysterical laughter-stopping air, I stepped down off the table and right into the personal space of a six-foot-odd hunk of solid muscle. My drink splashed out of the cup, its cool liquid trickling down my arm. Blue eyes regarded me with a deadly seriousness that shouldn’t be seen in a face that handsome.
I held his stare for a long minute.
There was no way I would back down to a guy. His jaw clenched and my god, it was as chiselled as any A-grade movie star’s. A peppering of jet-black stubble gave him a rugged edge, or maybe that came from his shaggy hair. But boy, he needed to give it up already. He continued to stare as if he were waiting for me to apologise. God only knew how I’d offended him. A quick check proved my feet weren’t stomping his toes, nor had my drink landed on his shirt. He wore low-slung jeans and a plain grey T-shirt, both of which fitted his toned body perfectly.
I raised my right eyebrow.
That made both of his dip.
I held out my free hand and he took it. “I’m Hex.”
“Hex?” His nose screwed up.
“No weirder than your attitude.”
“You should slow down.”
He dipped his head toward my almost-empty plastic cup. “With the drink. You should slow down.”
“And you should piss off.”
Who did this guy think he was? Probably some member of the anti-fun brigade, and that was too bad, because damn, his whole look was amazing.
A laugh burst from him so suddenly, I flinched, and realised our hands were still clasped. “Jordan,” he said, as if he’d remembered he hadn’t given me his name.
“Well, the pleasure was all yours, Jordan.” I retracted my hand. “Don’t party too hard, now.”
Author of the Collective Series and the Oxley College Saga.