Aced (Blocked #2)

By: Jennifer Lane

Dedication


To readers of all skin colors:

may we find common ground.

We all bleed the same.





Chapter One



“GO AWAY!” I HOLLERED. “I’m Netflixing.” The knock on my apartment door had drowned out the dialogue, and I paused the TV show on my laptop.

“Maddie?”

Oh no. It was Lucia outside, fierce on the volleyball court but such a sweetie. I glanced at my phone, partially hidden under balled-up tissues next to me on my ratty brown sofa. She had texted several times this week, but I hadn’t answered any messages from friends or family. I felt guilty for not responding—well, except for one person’s messages. I never wanted to speak to him again.

“I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?” I yelled, hoping she would leave. I hovered my finger over the play button, eager to see if Jasmine and Crosby would reunite.

A male voice floated through the door. “You okay, Ms. Brooks?”

Damn. I should’ve known Frank was with her. The first daughter—or whatever Lucia was called since her dad won the presidential election a couple months ago—couldn’t travel anywhere without Secret Service.

“I’m fine,” I called. Liar.

“Please, Maddie?” she called again. “I’m worried about you.”

The soft warble of her voice got to me. I sighed and crossed the room to open the door. Despite my moping, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw her getup: a long, black Sherpa coat, furry boots, and a matching red, gold, and orange-striped hat and mittens. She looked adorable, and I bet her boyfriend Dane had thought so, too.

I stuck my head into the hallway; it was probably sixty-five degrees. “Aren’t you overdoing it a little with the arctic layers?”

“It’s, like, negative five outside! I don’t know how you Midwesterners handle this.” Her pink cheeks glowed.

I tilted my head in sympathy. Ramirez—Rez for short—was from Houston. “It’ll get better come March.”

“That’s too far away.” Her dimple creased as she pouted. “I thought December was bad up here, but January’s way worse.”

I shook my head as I opened the door wider and extended my arm. “You can come in too, Agent Vanderberg.”

“No need.” Frank clasped his hands behind his back and stood at parade rest next to my door.

As she entered, Lucia looked over her shoulder. “You sure, Frank? It’s cold out there.”

“I’ll manage, Lucy.” His soft smile surprised me.

“What was that?” I asked after I closed the door. “You forgave Frank for telling your dad about Dane?”

Her father had gone nuclear upon learning that his daughter was dating the son of Senator Monroe—a Democrat and his opponent in the presidential race—right before the final debate last October.

“That’s old news.” Her shrug was barely noticeable beneath her thick coat. “You would’ve known I forgave Frank if you hadn’t holed yourself up in here.”

“It’s only been a few days.”

Lucia’s chin dipped. “You’ve missed practice for a week, and you know how Coach gets without you there to chill him out.”

“Sorry.” This was the real-world stuff I’d been avoiding with Netflix: expectations, exercise, and ex-boyfriends. I cast a longing look at my laptop.

“Didn’t mean to guilt-trip you, amiga. I know you don’t have to go to practice anymore.” She clapped her mittens together. “I just miss you. We have lots to catch up on.”

Now that I’d exhausted my four years of college-volleyball eligibility, I didn’t have to attend off-season practice. But if I wanted to make the national team, I needed to practice. Selection camps for Team USA loomed, starting in April, and I couldn’t afford to let myself get out of shape. “I miss you too, Rez. But besides dragging my butt to a few classes, I’ve checked out of everything since Saturday night.”

Her brown eyes softened. “Have you heard from him?”

I flopped down on the cushion and reached for my phone, scrolling through the texts to find the ones from asshat. “How ’bout you take off your winterwear and have a seat, Texas?”

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