Excerpt: Geeks Can Be Hot

Excerpt: Geeks Can Be Hot

Book 4: Mapleville High

Matt might be my fake boyfriend, and a little annoying at that, but there was no way I was going to leave him hanging in front of my friends. They thought we were going out, and we’d both look like idiots if they found out the truth. I owed Matt bigtime, and that meant I was going to play the role that I’d trapped him in…even though I had no clue how to actually be a girlfriend, especially out on double date night with my friends.

Matt was already uncomfortable with the fake boyfriend thing, and I’d made it worse by making him come out with my friends and fake it in front of everyone. So, yeah, it was my job to make it easier for him. I took a deep breath, then leaned over and rested my chin on Matt’s shoulder, trying to act uber cool and casual.

Matt glanced at me, which meant his face was about a quarter of an inch from mine, seeing as how I was still using his shoulder for a pillow. I’d meant it as an expression of solidarity, but now I was sort of enjoying it. It felt good. I don’t know why, but it did. So I smiled at him.

He smiled back. Nice teeth. Hadn’t realized how white and straight they were. “Did you have braces?” I asked. Random question, I know, but I was curious. I’d never noticed how nice his smile was, probably because I was usually so annoyed I had to spend time with him that I’d never bothered to actually look at him as a human being, or even a guy. 

“Nope.”

“Lucky dog.” I’d just gotten my braces off about six months ago. It was so great not to be carrying around a wad of wax anymore.

“I agree,” Tad said, joining in our discussion, startling me. For a brief second, I’d completely forgotten that there was anyone else at the table.

Matt and I both looked at Tad. Had Matt also forgotten there were others at the table? Probably not. He was used to the girlfriend thing, seeing as he had one in real life. I, on the other hand, had never put my chin on any guy’s shoulder, and I was a little distracted by how much I liked it. 

Tad was nodding, and rubbing Allie’s shoulder. “I like that Allie and I have stuff to talk about besides running.” He smiled at her, that kind of private smile that really should be saved for when they were alone. “I’m glad you come to my track meets, though.”

She grinned back, beaming at him. “I know enough to realize that when you win it’s a good thing.”

He smiled at her “You’ve figured out a lot more than that. I appreciate it.”

Ugh. Sickening.

I tried to catch Matt’s gaze to trade vomit expressions, but he was staring at Tad and Allie with a wistful look on his face that caught my gut and wrenched it. Was he thinking of his real girlfriend? Missing her? Wishing she was around so he could whisper sweet little things into her ear?

Suddenly, seeing Tad being so sweet with Allie didn’t make me nauseous. It made me sad. I wanted that, too. I really did. And being with Matt, who was dating someone else (even if she did live in London), made me realize exactly how alone I was really was. 

“Hey, Natalie.”

My head whipped up so fast I thought my neck was going to snap. Zach was standing at the end of the table, between Tad and Matt. OMG. “Hi.”

Matt twisted around to check out Zach, then he shot me a questioning look.

Great. So he remembered that I had a crush on Zach. I wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or a horrible thing. I couldn’t really think, my heart was beating so fast. Zach looked totally cute in a pair of ripped jeans and a loose T-shirt. I could see his biceps peeking out from under his sleeves—those wiry, ripped muscles that runners had.

Matt snorted under his breath and put his arm across the back of my chair. Now he decided to finally go along with his fake-boyfriend-role? Did he think he was helping my cause or something? Or maybe he just wanted me to die miserable and alone since he was agonizing about his girlfriend being in London and leaving him alone. 

Zach’s eyes flickered over Matt’s arm, then up to his face. “So, you’re the boyfriend?” he asked Matt.

Matt, the king of uber-reluctant fake boyfriends, didn’t hesitate. “Yep.”

Interesting.

One of Zach’s eyebrows arched. “How long have you guys been dating?” 

“Long enough,” Matt said. His arm slipped off the back of my chair and rested on my shoulders.

Long enough for what? Was Matt sending some sort of secret guy code message to Zach that I didn’t know about? Long enough to fall madly in love? Long enough to be getting tired of me? Long enough to what?  

Zach looked at me. “Doesn’t sound like it to me. Nat and I had fun at the party last night.”

OMG. He’d totally made it sound like we’d been up to something. He was trying to mess with my relationship with Matt! What was that all about? 

Matt’s arm tightened around my shoulders. “You mean the team party?”

Zach winked at me. “Yeah, the team party.” His emphasis on the word team made it totally clear that it hadn’t been a team thing at all.

Matt’s fingers were digging into my shoulder so hard it almost hurt. Yes, he wasn’t my boyfriend in real life, but if he was, this would be a horrible thing to do to him. To me. To both of us. And seeing as how the world thought we were dating, I wasn’t going to let Zach do this to him. “Matt, we didn’t, I mean, nothing happened. It really was just a team thing,” I stuttered, not liking all the hostile looks from my friends. “I didn’t do anything, I swear—” 

“We have an extra seat at our table, Natalie,” Zach interrupted. “It would be nice to do some team bonding before the race. Talk strategy. It’ll be good for you.”

He wanted me to join him for dinner with the rest of our team? Wow. That was everything I’d been wanting…but I looked at Matt’s tight face, and I felt terrible. I couldn’t do that to him, but the thought of turning down Zach’s invite was awful. What if I never got another one? 

“She’s fine here.” Allie’s voice was like ice. Frigid. “We’re perfectly capable of prepping her for the race. Her boyfriend is her best inspiration.”

Zach shrugged and smiled at me again. “If you change your mind, we’re right over there.” He pointed to a big booth in the corner, filled with a few other kids from the team. All seniors.

“Um … okay,” I said. “Thanks for the invite. Maybe another time,” I added hopefully. 

“Good-bye,” Allie said pointedly.

Zach gave me a final smile that curled my toes, then he glided away from the table. Was he cool or what?

“What a complete scumbag,” Allie spat out.

Tad nodded. “No kidding.” He nodded at Matt. “I think you better plan on showing up at Natalie’s meet tomorrow. He’s making a move on Nat.”

He was? Really? 

Allie must have read the expression on my face. “Of course he was! He was hitting on you in front of your boyfriend! As if Matt wasn’t even there.” She shook her head. “Disgusting. I hope he breaks an ankle in the race tomorrow. “

“Allie!” Okay, I could admit that Zach had been kind of a jerk, but he was our best runner. His ankles were off limits to evil thoughts. 

Tad was looking at me. “What team party last night?” He shot Matt a look of sympathy.

“Nothing happened with him,” I blurted out. “He just made it sound that way.” I looked at Matt. “I swear, Matt. He told me it was for team people only and then when I showed up all these other people were there….” My voice faded as I recalled Zach had told me that no one else was allowed so I wouldn’t bring my boyfriend. “I didn’t realize it was a party, and I swear nothing happened. A bunch of us watched a movie, and that was it.” Sure, we weren’t actually dating, but I didn’t want Matt or anyone else at the table to think I’d cheat on him.

I wasn’t like that, but more importantly, Matt deserved better than that. 

Matt stared at me for a long time. “I don’t enjoy being jerked around.”

“I know that! I didn’t do anything! I swear it!” 

His gaze flicked toward Zach, who was watching us with a smug look on his face while Val leaned against him. “I don’t like him enough to let him think he’s better than me.”

“He already does,” Tad said. “Look at that expression on his face. He gives runners a bad name.”

Matt locked his gaze on mine. “I have my pride.”

I swallowed at the intense look on his face. Matt might be a brainiac, but there was nothing wimpy about the look on his face right now. He was pissed, and he was insulted. In fact, he looked completely tough and sexy, and I suddenly would have bet on him instead of Zach, if they were to meet for a duel at dawn with pistols. 

“Is Zach still watching?” Matt asked, not taking his gaze off me.

I glanced at the table. “Yeah.” Still sporting that smug look on his face too. Even though he was totally cute, it really did make him look like a jerk.

“Then let’s give him something to watch.” He curved his fingers around the back of my neck and applied gentle pressure. “Come here.”

It took me a split second before I realized what he was going to do. He was going to kiss me, and he was going to make it count. This wasn’t going to be like the kiss at the field the other day. This was going to be the real thing.

My heart started pounding and I couldn’t catch my breath. And I didn’t pull away. I wanted Matt to kiss me. I wanted it more than anything I’d ever wanted in my life. 

When Matt lips touched mine, I was sure I was going to faint. They were so soft and warm and begging me to join them. So I kissed him back. I mean, I tried. I wasn’t exactly the expert, but I tried to copy what he was doing. Well, I tried for a little bit; after that, I couldn’t think. All I could do was taste his lips and feel his breath and try not to fall off my chair.

He finally pulled away, but not very far. His eyes were all smoky and made me all warm. “Apparently, running isn’t the only thing you’re good at.” His voice was husky and gravelly and it made my skin pop up in goose bumps. He brushed his thumb over my lips, and I thought for sure I was going to die right on the spot.

“You, too.” Was that my voice? Sounded awfully breathless.

The corner of his mouth curved up. “I’m not good at running.”

“Well, you’re good at kissing.”

He broke into a full grin. “Thanks.” He rubbed his thumb over my cheeks, and I melted a little bit more. 

“I think that did it,” Allie’s voice broke into our magic bubble. “Zach’s looking pissed, not smug.”

Zach. I’d totally forgotten the kiss had been for him. Matt dropped his hand and turned away.

I didn’t want him to turn away. I wanted him back. I wanted him to kiss me like that again. And again. And again. At the very least, I wanted him to kiss me until I actually did fall off my chair. Not that it would take much.

“Your hands are shaking.” Allie pointed at my water glass, which I’d picked up in an attempt to distract myself. “That must have been some kiss.”

Matt and I both looked at my hand, which was very clearly trembling. The water was shivering, and the ice was clinking. I felt my cheeks heat up, and I couldn’t look at him.

How totally embarrassing!

Matt said nothing, but he put his arm over the back of my chair and left it there until the food arrived.

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