The Play (Briar U, #3)

I enter the lecture hall sandwiched between the two boys, my arms linked through theirs. The bulk of my friends are male, a fact that my boyfriend has come to accept. In high school he wasn’t too thrilled about it, but Nico’s never been a controlling boyfriend, and I think he secretly likes how well I get along with his friends.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got girlfriends too. My sorority sisters. Pippa and Corinne, who I’m meeting for dinner tonight. But my guy friends do outnumber the girls, for whatever reason.

Inside the cavernous room, the boys and I find three seats together in a row near the middle of the room. I notice Hunter Davenport one row ahead of us at the end of the aisle, hunched over his phone.

“Gawd, he is perfection,” Pax groans. “You have no idea how often I’ve fantasized about luring him over to the D-side.”

I pat my friend on the arm. “Maybe one day. I have faith in you.”

The room fills up, but all chatter dies when our professor enters at nine o’clock sharp. She’s a tall, slender woman with short hair and shrewd brown eyes behind a pair of square black frames. She greets us warmly, and goes on to introduce herself, her credentials, and what we can expect to learn this year.

I’m pumped. My father is a surgeon and my mother used to be a pediatrics nurse, so it was inevitable that I’d wind up in a medicine-related field. It’s probably programmed into my DNA. But surgery and nursing never interested me. Since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to the mind. I’m especially fascinated by personality disorders. By destructive patterns of thinking and how they impact an individual when they interact with the world.

Professor Andrews discusses the specific topics we’ll be covering. “We’re going to see how abnormal psych was dealt with in the past and how modern approaches to it have evolved over the years. Clinical assessments and diagnosis will play a large role in our studies. Also, I believe in a hands-on approach to teaching. Which means I’m not simply going to stand here at this podium and spew facts about stress disorders, mood disorders, sexual disorders, and the like.”

I lean forward. I’m already enthralled. I like her no-nonsense tone, and the way she sweeps her gaze over the room and tries to look everyone in the eye. I’ve had a lot of classes where the prof reads off a laptop in a monotone and doesn’t seem to notice there’re other people in the room.

She says we’ll be expected to write summaries of the case studies she talks about in class, that there’ll be a few multiple-choice tests. “All test dates are in the syllabus that was emailed to you. As for your major research project, it requires a partner, and it will be an ongoing partnership, with the final research paper and in-depth case study due before the holiday break. Now this is the fun part…”

I notice several uneasy glances being exchanged throughout the lecture hall. I guess it’s a red flag when a prof uses the word “fun.” But I’m not concerned. Everything she’s described so far sounds interesting.

“You know that old childhood game—playing doctor?” Professor Andrews grins at the room. “That’s the gist of this research project. One partner will play the role of the psychologist; the other will be the patient. The former will be provided with diagnostic tools in order to make an assessment and write a detailed case study. The latter will be assigned a psychological disorder that they’ll be required to research and, for lack of a better word, play-act for the doctor.”

“I love it,” Pax says to me. “Please, please let me play the patient.”

“Why do you assume you’re partnering with Demi?” TJ objects.

“Boys, there’s plenty of me to go around.”

But Andrews throws us for a loop. “I’m assigning partners based on this alphabetized class list.” She holds up some sheets of paper. “When you hear your names, raise your hands so you know who you’re working with. All right, let’s start—Ames and Ardin.”

Two arms go up. A girl with bright purple hair, and a girl wearing a Patriots cap.

“Axelrod and Bailey.”

There are about a hundred people in the class, but Andrews is efficient. She whizzes through names at a fast clip, and we reach the D’s in no time.

“Davenport and Davis.”

I raise my hand at the same time as Hunter. He shifts his gaze toward me, quirking his mouth in a half-smile.

Next to me, TJ sighs unhappily. He leans in to whisper, “Do you want me to legally change my last name to Davidson to save you from the hockey asshole?”

I grin at him. “It’s okay, I’ll survive.”

“Grey and Guthrie,” Andrews is saying.

“Are you sure?” TJ presses. “I bet you can switch partners if you said something.”

“Killington and Ladde.”

“Babe, it’s fine. I don’t even know the guy,” I say. “You’re the one who doesn’t like him.”

“I love him,” Pax bemoans. “I want to play doctor with him.”

But then Andrews calls out, “Lawson and Ling,” and Pax brightens up when his partner raises a hand. It’s a guy with wavy brown hair and a killer jawline.

“He’ll do,” murmurs Pax, and I swallow a laugh.

“These packages,” Andrews says, gesturing to the stacks of orange manila envelopes on her desk, “contain detailed instructions about the assignment. One partner, please remember to grab one after the lecture. It’ll be up to each team to decide who assumes which role.”

Hunter twists around and gives me a finger gun, I assume to tell me I’m on envelope duty.

I roll my eyes. Already making me do all the work, I see.

Once everyone’s assigned a partner, Andrews resumes the lecture, and I take so many notes my wrist starts to ache. Shit, I’ll need to bring my laptop next time. I usually prefer writing notes by hand, but there’s a lot of material to unpack and she covers so much in such a short time.

After we’re dismissed, I head to the front of the room to grab a manila envelope. It’s got some heft to it. That might alarm some people, but I’m looking forward to this project. It sounds fun and comprehensive, even if I am paired with a jock.

Speaking of the jock, he wanders toward me, hiking his backpack over one broad shoulder. “Davis,” he greets me.

“Davenport.”

“Call me Hunter.” His gaze does a slow sweep of me from head to toe. It lingers a little too long on my bare legs, still nice and tanned from a summer spent in Miami.

“I’m Demi.” I notice TJ and Pax standing near the exit, waiting for me to finish up.

“Demi…” he says absently. He’s still checking out my legs, and he visibly gulps before wrenching his gaze back to mine.

“Yes, that’s my name.” Why is he shifting his stance like that? I narrow my eyes at his crotch. Does he have an erection?

“Demi,” he repeats.

“Uh-huh. Rhymes with semi.” I shoot a pointed look at his crotch.

Hunter glances down. Then he snickers. “For fuck’s sake, I’m not rocking a boner. That’s just my pants.”

“Surrrrre.”

He slides one big hand to his zipper area and covers it with his palm, and the tent in the denim does seem to flatten. “New jeans,” he grumbles. “They’re still kinda stiff.”

“Stiff, you say.”

“It’s the fabric. See? Touch it.”

Laughter sputters from my throat. “Oh my God, I am not touching your dick.”

“Your loss.” Hunter smirks.

“If you say so, bud.” I hold up the envelope. “So when should we meet up and go over all this stuff?”

“I dunno. You free tonight?”

I shake my head. “I’ve got plans. How about tomorrow night?”

“Yeah, I’ll be around. When and where?”

“Eight o’clock at the Theta Beta Nu house?”

“Huh, really? I didn’t take you for a sorority girl.”

I shrug. “Well, I am.”

Truth be told, I only pledged because I didn’t want to live in the dorms. Plus, my mother belonged to the Theta chapter at her college, and I grew up hearing about how her sorority days were some of the best days of her life. She was the life of the party back then, and still is.

“Okay then. I’ll see you tomorrow night, Semi,” he drawls before striding off.





3





Hunter





“Ugh. I miss those tits so much.”

“They miss you too...”

“Mmmm, yeah? What do they miss most about me?”

“Definitely your tongue.”

“Mmmm. Let me see ’em, Hottie. Just a peek.”

“What if one of your teammates walks in?”

“Then they’ll be jealous of me till the end of time because I’m dating the sexiest woman in the world.”

“Fine, I’ll play. But only if you show me your dick.”

“Deal. You first…aw fuck, baby…wait, maybe you should put the girls away—what if Hunter walks in? You said he was home.”

“Oh, it’s a non-issue. Hunter’s a monk now. My bare boobs won’t make an impact.”

From the kitchen, I finally release the growl stuck in my throat. I thought I was coming downstairs to grab some dinner before my study date with Demi Davis. Instead, I just spent the past five minutes listening to the most nauseating Skype session in the world.

“Yeah, I’m a monk,” I holler at the doorway. “Not a motherfucking eunuch!”

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