Fraternize, p.1
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       Fraternize, p.1

         Part #1 of Players Game series by Rachel Van Dyken
 
Fraternize


  Table of Contents

  PRAISE FOR RACHEL VAN DYKEN “The Consequence of Loving Colton is a must-read friends-to-lovers story that’s as passionate and sexy as it is hilarious!” —Melissa Foster, New York Times bestselling author “Just when you think Van Dyken can’t possibly get any better, she goes and delivers The Consequence of Loving Colton. Full of longing and breathless moments, this is what romance is about.” —Lauren Layne, USA Today bestselling author “The tension between Milo and Colton made this story impossible to put down. Quick, sexy, witty—easily one of my favorite books from Rachel Van Dyken.” —R.S. Grey, USA Today bestselling author “Hot, funny . . . will leave you wishing you could get marked by one of the immortals!” —Molly McAdams, New York Times bestselling author, on The Dark Ones “Laugh-out-loud fun! Rachel Van Dyken is on my auto-buy list.” —Jill Shalvis, New York Times bestselling author, on The Wager “The Dare is a laugh-out-loud read that I could not put down. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

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  ALSO BY #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR RACHEL VAN DYKEN The Consequence Series The Consequence of Loving Colton The Consequence of Revenge The Consequence of Seduction The Consequence of Rejection The Wingmen Inc. Series The Matchmaker’s Playbook The Matchmaker’s Replacement Curious Liaisons Series Cheater Cheater’s Regret The Bet Series The Bet The Wager The Dare The Ruin Series Ruin Toxic Fearless Shame The Eagle Elite Series Elite Elect Enamor Entice Elicit Bang Bang Enforce Ember Elude Empire The Seaside Series Tear Pull Shatter Forever Fall Eternal Strung Capture The Renwick House Series The Ugly Duckling Debutante The Seduction of Sebastian St. James The Redemption of Lord Rawlings An Unlikely Alliance The Devil Duke Takes a Bride The London Fairy Tale Series Upon A Midnight Dream Whispered Music The Wolf’s Pursuit When Ash Falls The Seasons of Paleo Series Savage Winter Feral Spring The Wallflower Series (with Leah Sanders) Waltzing with the Wallflower Beguiling Bridget Ta

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  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Text copyright © 2017 by Rachel Van Dyken All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher. Published by Skyscape, New York www.apub.com Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Skyscape are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates. ISBN-13: 9781477809204 ISBN-10: 1477809201 Cover design by Shasti O’Leary Soudant Cover photography by Regina Wamba of MaeIDesign.com

  To all the women out there: own your awesome, hold your heads high, and remember how fearfully and wonderfully made YOU are. Grandma always said all you need is a bright lip and heels and you could take over the world. Well, what do you say? #runtheworld

  Contents Prologue EMERSON Chapter One EMERSON Chapter Two EMERSON Chapter Three MILLER Chapter Four EMERSON Chapter Five MILLER Chapter Six EMERSON Chapter Seven MILLER Chapter Eight EMERSON Chapter Nine EMERSON Chapter Ten MILLER Chapter Eleven EMERSON Chapter Twelve MILLER Chapter Thirteen EMERSON Chapter Fourteen MILLER Chapter Fifteen EMERSON Chapter Sixteen MILLER Chapter Seventeen MILLER Chapter Eighteen EMERSON Chapter Nineteen MILLER Chapter Twenty EMERSON Chapter Twenty-One MILLER Chapter Twenty-Two EMERSON Chapter Twenty-Three MILLER Chapter Twenty-Four EMERSON Chapter Twenty-Five MILLER Chapter Twenty-Six EMERSON Chapter Twenty-Seven MILLER Chapter Twenty-Eight EMERSON Chapter Twenty-Nine MILLER Chapter Thirty EMERSON Chapter Thirty-One EMERSON Chapter Thirty-Two MILLER Chapter Thirty-Three EMERSON Chapter Thirty-Four SANCHEZ Chapter Thirty-Five MILLER Chapter Thirty-Six SANCHEZ Chapter Thirty-Seven EMERSON Chapter Thirty-Eight MILLER Chapter Thirty-Nine EMERSON Chapter Fort

  Prologue EMERSON Bellevue High School—2007 Senior Year The Big Game 6:30 p.m. “Emerson!” Miller slammed his hands against the locker room door at least ten times before he stopped and then started again; this time it sounded like he was using his cleats. “I know you’re in there!” “Emerson!” Miller yelled again. “I will break down this door!” “Just go away!” “No!” “You’re a pain in my ass!” “Well, you have a nice ass,” he said, humor lacing his tone. I smiled. “You’re smiling, aren’t you?” he said in a silky voice. I snorted and tried to wipe the hot tears from my cheeks. “Don’t fight it. You love me.” “I hate you.” I was full-on grinning as I stood and shuffled over to unlock the door. Miller shoved it open. “You should be warming up with the team,” I whispered. “Whatever will our school do without its hero?” “You tell me. You’re the one who’s hiding out in the locker room because you let some skinny bitch get to you.” I sighed. “Maybe next time I’ll give her a cookie.” As he towered o

  Chapter One EMERSON Present Day Sleep didn’t come. But the memories did. So while most girls were probably well rested and ready to make the squad, I was stuck with the Ghost of Christmas Past. I checked my reflection in the rearview mirror of my crappy car and willed away the dark circles under my eyes. I had to make the squad. I had to. It was my last shot. Professional cheerleaders didn’t get paid much of anything, and with as much time as I spent trying to become one, I was at a crossroads. I just didn’t want to give up, I couldn’t. My mom had been a professional cheerleader before she died, and I still had her picture under my pillow, the edges torn, the colors faded. Growing up without her had been painful. Not because I remembered much about her, I was too young when she was taken from us. No, it had been hard because my dad hadn’t quite got why I was bullied. To him I was perfect. He never saw the flaws everyone else seemed to, and when I grew boobs and hips, and all the other

  Chapter Two EMERSON (Then) A Week Later I held his hand as tight as I could. It didn’t take away the pain. Nothing would. Pulmonary embolism. His mother died instantly. I watched my best friend fall apart that day, and I wasn’t so sure I would ever have my Miller back. The funeral sucked. The pastor tried to make everyone feel better by talking about heaven. It was not what Miller needed to hear. Because, besides me, his mom had been his best friend, his greatest cheerleader. His Navy dad was hardly home. They were the dynamic duo, as Miller usually called them. And now? Now he just had me. The shoes were too big to fill. The task too daunting to even think about. Encouraging words fell on deaf ears as both Miller and I placed a rose on the casket and walked out into the parking lot. “Let’s get drunk,” he announced once we were back in his truck. I nodded. “Alright.” His gaze sharpened in on me. “Seriously?” Shrugging, I put on my sunglasses so he wouldn’t see my puffy eyes. “I think i

  Chapter Three MILLER (Then) Three Days Later Houma, Louisiana “I hope you wore a condom” was the first sentence my asshole dad muttered to me once I walked into the plain two-bedroom house on base, after the longest car ride of my life, during which he basically ignored me. I thought at least after the distraction of moving our shit, he’d acknowledge me. Not the case. “Good to see you too,” I grumbled, tossing my duffel bag onto the couch and sitting. I already missed her so much. Em always said what was on her mind. She’d have given my dad an earful, and it wouldn’t have been the first time either. Right after the funeral, she’d marched up to him and told him that he was ruining my life. I think I fell a little more in love with her that day, if that was even possible. “Now listen here.” Dad’s Southern drawl was thick and irritating as hell. I wondered if he’d been drinking. Seemed like he hadn’t stopped since the funeral. And he was only too happy to relocate. Like Mom meant nothing

  Chapter Four EMERSON Present Day My lungs burned as I pumped my legs harder, faster. The tempo of the music was relentless, and my head pounded from the exertion. “And five, six, seven, eight!” Coach called from the front. “Dip, step, clap, clap—Mary, I saw that. Keep your fingers point
ed! And sway right, left—Mary! I said keep your fingers pointed! No sloppy hands!” I gritted my teeth and finished the routine flawlessly. Not that it ever mattered. I’d finished routines flawlessly all throughout college, and even now, two years later. And I’d still gotten cut. It didn’t mean I’d stopped trying; if anything, it had just pushed me harder. The worst part about trying out for professional cheerleading was the diet restrictions given to the girls, even the girls not yet on the squad. The team dietician often pulled me over and asked why I wasn’t following the list of approved foods. When I told her I was . . . I’d been accused of lying. And bless your little heart, her voice had crooned. Th

  Chapter Five MILLER “That hurts!” I roared, slamming my hands down on the therapist’s table. “Are you trying to kill me? Maim me? Show me how strong you are? Damn it! Stop punishing me!” Wendy’s eyes were steel. Just like her hands. She didn’t budge, but continued to roll out my IT band like she was trying to snap the thing in half. “Breathe.” She pushed harder. I clenched my teeth and tried not to pass out. “I’m trying!” “You’re tense.” Her soft voice was the reason I’d always loved working with her. She was four foot ten and ninety pounds of absolute terror. The first time she offered to work on me, I’d laughed at her. And left with a slight limp and four ibuprofen. She claimed her family came from a long line of ninjas, and since she’d been working for the Pittsburgh Pilots, we all believed her. Even our quarterback gave her a wide berth. “Almost done,” Wendy soothed, patting my leg one more time before digging in with her elbow. Sweat poured down my face as I closed my eyes and tri

  Chapter Six EMERSON My perfectly rounded nails dug into my palms. I crossed my legs then uncrossed them at least a dozen times before the door opened. Coach Kay strutted in and sat behind a large black desk littered with pictures of athletes, friends, and folks who I assumed were family members. Awards decorated her white walls. I was really close to being sick to my stomach when she finally spoke. “You know why you’ve been asked here.” It wasn’t a question. Was it? I quickly nodded my head and spoke. “I believe you’re looking for a new replacement.” “Yes.” Silence stretched between us while her eyes narrowed in on me and very slowly inched down my body. She started at my head until she stood up and leaned over the desk, her gaze never wavering as she inspected me all the way down to my pink-and-black Nike tennis shoes. “Hmm.” It wasn’t a good hmm. Not like Hmm, that’s cute or Hmm, that’s different. It was more of a hmm that meant it wouldn’t work at all. I’d been on the wrong side of

  Chapter Seven MILLER I hated planes. They reminded me of leaving. Which in turn reminded me of being left behind. I always envisioned myself as the one being abandoned. And any sort of travel always reminded me that I basically had been. I pulled my bag of shit over my right shoulder and took in the expansive practice facility. It was nice. Nicer than what I’d come from. Probably because the Bucks bled money, and it showed, from the pristine practice facility to the stadium for games next door. They had lap pools, Jacuzzis, steam rooms, and ice baths. It was like a freaking spa in the locker room. I’d done a double take when I saw my new jersey, my hand trembling when I tugged at the black and white mesh. For so many years it had been my dream to be a Buck. Now? It was a waking nightmare. (Then) “You think that was a tackle!” Em yelled. “Come on!” She jumped up to her feet and screamed until she was hoarse, while I sipped on our shared soda and watched with rapt fascination. “What?” Sh

  Chapter Eight EMERSON The cheerleading manual had been brutally . . . honest about what they expected. They didn’t come out and ask the members of the squad to diet, but it was strongly suggested they stay away from anything that could potentially attach itself to the thighs by way of fat. No sugar. No soda. No fruit! How was fruit bad? What had fruit ever done to a human other than hydrate? By the time I’d finished the first two pages, I was ready to be sick. Surprise weigh-ins throughout the season? What was this, Weight Watchers? Hell? Both? Coach Kay had said nothing about any of this, which meant only one thing. She was either setting me up to fail, or she thought I could handle it. All talking ceased the minute I walked out onto the field to practice with the other girls. When I dropped my bag to the ground and started stretching, a few girls eyed me, the bag, and then me again, and started whispering. One brave one marched over and sat down. “Hey.” “Hey.” I swallowed my nervousn

  Chapter Nine EMERSON “Are you sure this is okay?” I glanced around the empty locker room and shivered. My body ached in all the wrong places, places I didn’t even know existed. Practice had ended a half hour ago, and even though I’d rolled out my muscles and nearly cried from the impact of the foam roller, I still hurt. “Sure.” Kinsey shrugged. “I use it all the time. Just make sure to lock up when you’re done. It’s one of the perks of being a Bucks Girl.” She dumped the last bag of ice in the tub and pointed. “Ten minutes, no complaining. No tears. Buck up, Bucks Girl.” I shivered. “I hate ice baths.” “Everyone hates ice baths, psycho.” She patted me on the back and then gave me a friendly shove toward the tin tub. “Keep your sports bra and underwear on just in case one of the night janitors walks by or, you know, a player.” I glared. “A football player?” “No worries. It’s preseason, and practice is at the ass-crack of dawn tomorrow. It’s too late for them to be out, the big babies.”

  Chapter Ten MILLER Sanchez was waiting for me in the parking lot with the dopiest smile I had ever seen on any human’s face. “Why do you always look like you’re high?” I asked, once I got out of my Mercedes and grabbed my duffel from the trunk. “High on life, my man.” He shrugged, the grin back full force. “I just had a good night. Can’t a man smile about a good night?” “I don’t want to know.” His reputation was legendary. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the little shit took home four cheerleaders last night and let them take turns doing cartwheels on his dick. “I wouldn’t tell you anyway.” He grabbed his bag and walked with me toward the practice facility. “You ever been in a relationship?” I stopped walking. “Miller?” “We’re not friends.” “Why the fuck do people keep rejecting my friendship? First Curves and now you. Damn, it’s like some sick joke.” “Curves?” “Hottest cheerleader ever. Rejected me. Twice. But I did get in a nice kiss. Then again, she was trapped. Never mind.” “You

  Chapter Eleven EMERSON Just like that, I remembered. All it took was one lingering look from the guy who broke my heart, and it was there. All of it. I fought to keep the tears in. I failed. (Then) “You have to let go, boo.” “What did I tell you about using that word?” I sobbed against his chest and refused to untangle my arms from his body. “A lot of things that I can’t really remember, since all my focus is on the fact that I totally saw you naked.” “More than once.” “Twice. I counted.” Miller’s smug response had my face burning red all the way to the tips of my ears. “Thank God, you can count that high,” I countered. Miller kissed the top of my head. “Hey, I get good grades. I’m smart and shit.” I rolled my eyes even though he couldn’t see me and finally, finally pried myself free. His clear gaze was locked onto me. “Don’t go,” I begged. “Trust me.” Voice gruff, he brushed a kiss across my mouth. “The last thing I want to do is leave my partner behind.” “This sucks.” I huffed, wipin

  Chapter Twelve MILLER I wasn’t sure how long I’d stared at the blank wall. The paint was a muted tan that only seemed to remind me of my own emptiness—and of the need to fill the wall with something that felt like home. I’d never put up pictures. It had seemed pointless. The only ones that had ever meant anything to me were of Emerson and my mom. My dad only wanted me for my money and, ever since my mom’s death, had found most of his answers at the bottom of a bottle. Unpacked boxes littered the apartment. I’d taken the first available penthouse apartment in Bellevue, with hopes that the security would be enough to give me privacy. And if I was being completely honest, it was also far enough away from my childhood home, from her, from the McDonald’s we used to go to, from the high school we’d both attended. I sure as hell
shouldn’t let my brain go there but it did, and just like that one of my last memories with Em pushed through the surface, begging to be remembered. (Then) “Eat.” I s

  Chapter Thirteen EMERSON It was quickly turning out to be the worst morning of my life. I woke up to Sanchez hovering over me with a mirror under my nose. He was afraid I wasn’t breathing. Good to know that his first response wasn’t to call an ambulance or even feel for a pulse, but to grab a freaking bathroom mirror and shove it underneath my nostrils. Things just got worse from there. I’d been trying to do the whole protein shake thing as per the manual’s instructions, only to wake up to sausage, bacon, toast, and eggs. He’d made it all. And while that would normally be the sweetest thing ever, he refused to let me leave until I ate everything on my plate. Because, didn’t you know? Kids are starving all over the US, going hungry. Plus, he wanted me to keep my curves. Okay, so maybe that was the good part of my morning. But it quickly went to hell after I grabbed my bag and moved to the elevator. Either Miller was literally stalking us through the peephole, or I had the worst luck in

  Chapter Fourteen MILLER I don’t know how long I drove around—a few hours, at least. Finally, I made my way back to my empty apartment, my duffel bag in one hand and an empty McDonald’s bag in the other. I could have thrown it away in the parking garage trash. But for some reason, my fingers were having a hard time parting with just one more memory that I knew would be soon forgotten. Nothing made sense. Why would Emerson and her father have to move out of their house? He’d had a really good teaching job at Shoreline College. The man had a PhD. The more I thought about it the more curious I felt. The more sick that she’d been living like that—and that maybe I’d been wrong about her. Until the elevator door opened to my penthouse, and loud music greeted me. Damn Sanchez. I went to his door first and banged my fist against the wood grain so hard I was surprised it didn’t splinter. He jerked it open and turned toward the living room. Was that an open invitation? With a curse, I dropped my

 
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