Sunday, 17 December 2017

FREE CHAPTER READ: Stumped by Kate Larkindale


STUMPED 
Kate Larkindale 
Copyright © 2017 


~ Chapter One ~


The sunlight bouncing off the water is blinding. To keep from being dazzled, I stare down at my toes. Three dark hairs coil across the big toe on my left foot. Only one hair adorns the right. I puzzle over this while the other swimmers line up. Will Lainey think I’m a freak for having mismatched toe hair? Do girls notice that kind of shit?
Coach clears his throat and I curl my toes around the edge of the starting block. I pull down my goggles and the pool building takes on a cool, blue cast. I push Lainey from my mind. It’s not easy. My girlfriend is not forgettable. But now isn’t the time to obsess over her curves.
Settling my weight onto the balls of my feet, I drop into a crouch. I’m ready. I keep my head up and focus on the other end of the pool.
“Go!” Coach’s voice splinters the air and I push myself from the platform.
My dive’s good. Long and shallow. I use its momentum to launch myself into the first stroke. My arms rise up, pulling my chest and shoulders out of the water before my kick pushes them down. Each stroke devours a chunk of the pool and brings the wall closer to me.
Before I head into the tumble turn that marks fifty meters, I glance to my left. No one. I glance right and find Jeremy Taylor right behind me. Fuck that. No way is he going to beat me today. I smashed his time last week and he’s been threatening to top it ever since. I’d like to see him try. Just because he’s the team captain doesn’t mean he’s the fastest.
Throwing myself at the wall, I roll and head back. Knowing page5image81440 page5image81608 page5image81776 page5image81944 page5image82112 page5image82280
Jeremy is at my tail spurs me on. Even though my shoulders ache and my chest burns, I push harder. Not this time, Jeremy. I slam the water with my feet. Not this time. I find a last scrap of strength as the wall comes into view. I hurl myself forward once more. My fingers scrape slick tile and I grab hold of the pool’s edge.
“Ozzy.” Coach shouts my name and scribbles my time down on the clipboard he’s never without. “Jeremy. Steve. Callum. Joe. Mark. Seth.”
I raise my goggles. My heart pounds heavily in my chest. That has to have been a good one. I don’t usually feel this wrecked. I can hardly breathe.
Coach crouches above me. “Great swim, Ozzy. 59.43. A new school record. Probably even a new regional record. I’ll have to look it up.”
“Thanks, Coach.” I can’t keep the grin from my face. I knew I swam well, but 59.43 is insane. The world record is a little over forty- nine seconds. I’m only ten seconds off a world record time. That’s kind of a mind-fuck.
“Congratulations.” Jeremy leans over the lane rope and sticks out his hand. “You were on fire out there today. You in a hurry?”
I slap my palm against his. “Maybe,” I say. I have a date with Lainey tonight. A date I haven’t stopped thinking about since we made it on Wednesday. “And talking of hurrying, I’m going to hit the showers before all you losers drain the hot water.”
“Who are you calling a loser?” Jeremy grins and pulls himself from the pool. He’s halfway to the locker room before I manage to haul myself onto the edge. So are the rest of the team. Guess I’ll shower at home.
With my clothes pulled over still-damp skin, I leave the locker room. After the steam and noise inside, the hallway feels eerily silent.
My phone buzzes in my pocket.
I pull it out. I have a bunch of messages.
I scroll through them. Caleb wants to borrow my car.
In yr dreams. I text back.
Mom wants me to pick up some groceries on my way home.
No problem.
Han wants to know if I’ll be going to Jenna’s party tonight. Prob not. Taking L to lake.
That one gets an immediate reply, an emoji with raised
eyebrows followed by a string of exclamation marks. I laugh. Pushing off the wall, I jam the phone back into my pocket.
Music spills from the auditorium on the far side of the foyer separating the arts center from the gym. The door is ajar, so I slip through it and stand in the shadows at the back of the hall. On stage, Lainey drills her dance team. Her shorts are so short tiny crescents of butt cheek flash me every time she turns around. Above them a t-shirt is knotted under her breasts. The stone in her belly-button-ring flashes under the stage lights. That thing is crazy sexy...
“Ozzy!” Lainey catches sight of me and jumps from the stage. Her dark ponytail trails behind her.
“Hi.” I step out of the dim corner and meet her at the top of the aisle.
“Hi, yourself.” Lainey rises onto her toes and presses her lips to mine. I taste the familiar flavor of her strawberry lip-gloss.
“Sorry,” she says when we finally pull apart. “I’m all sweaty and gross.”
“Sweaty, maybe. Gross, definitely not.” I reach for her again. Her skin is hot and damp from dancing, but even so, she smells amazing. Like cinnamon and some kind of flower. Even sweat can’t mask it. “You almost done? I can give you a ride home.”
She looks over her shoulder at the stage where the rest of the team mill about. A few of them practice steps, but most of them talk or peer at their phones. “We’re going to be at least another hour,” she says reluctantly. “You probably don’t want to hang around that long.”
“I want to,” I say. What guy wouldn’t want to stay here and watch his gorgeous, talented girlfriend shake her ass all over the place? “But I can’t. I promised Mom I’d pick up Meg. She had a sleep-over last night.”
“That’s okay.” Lainey smiles and pecks my cheek. “I’ll see you tonight, right?”
“Definitely.” I reach out and trace a line across her bare stomach with my fingertip.
She shivers, taking a step away. “You’re making me crazy already.”
“Pick you up at seven-thirty?” I close the space between us and kiss her again.
“Perfect,” she agrees. Her lips linger on mine.
As I turn to go, I’m sure I feel her hand on my ass. But when I

turn to check, she’s halfway down the aisle, already calling out instructions to the girls on stage.
I’m still grinning when I step out of the building into the warm sunshine. It’s hard to believe it’s fall already. The sun’s so hot it feels like June, not October. Not that I’m complaining. The weather is cooperating with my plans for tonight.
“Yo, Ozzy.” Jeremy jogs up behind me. “Glad I caught you. Can I get a ride home? My brother’s swiped the car again.”
“Sure.” I nod. “But I gotta pick my sister up on the way.” “No problem. Anything’s better than waiting for the bus.” I laugh. Buses on a Saturday suck. He’d probably still be
waiting when Lainey and her crew finish up.
“That was one mad swim today,” Jeremy says as I unlock the

car. “Can’t believe you beat my 60.02.”
“Me neither.” I reach in and throw all the junk piled on the

passenger seat into the back. Meg’ll just have to deal with it when she gets in. “I’ve been busting my ass to get close to sixty for a month. I got lucky today.”
Jeremy swings himself into the car. “Bet you beat that time next practice. I’ve been watching you. You’re good. And you work hard. Unlike most of the other fucktards on the team who think they can party on a Friday night and still swim on Saturday morning.”
“Thanks...” I never know what to say when someone compliments me. Especially when it’s not true. I bet he wouldn’t be so thrilled with me if he knew what Caleb and I were smoking last night.
“So, where am I taking you?” I start the engine. “Home?” “Yeah. You remember where to go?”
I nod. It’s not the first time Jeremy’s brother has taken off

with Jeremy’s car while he’s at practice. “Over on Lorne, right?” Jeremy nods.
“Well, I gotta pick up Meg first. But it’s not far out of the way.”
“I’m in no hurry.” Jeremy settles back in the seat. 


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