When Fates Collide... and Conspire
○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ADDISON ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○ ○
Freaking Professor Thompson.
I’m screwed. Big-time.
The guy has it out for me.
Maybe he has a thing against outspoken female students. Or he just can’t handle being wrong. Either way, I dared to correct him during a presentation—okay, maybe it was in front of a packed hall during my freshman year.
But come on, I couldn’t let him quote the wrong source. Who’d let that slide?
Now, I’m stuck in his class, the only elective that fits my crazy schedule. And wouldn’t you know it, the professor turns out to be Mr. Grudge himself. Maybe I could bail? No way. It’d mess up my plans and put me even deeper into the student loan hole.
C’mon, Addison. You’re not some scared freshman anymore. So what if he tried to fail you at every turn during your first year?
In a perfect world, I’d give him a piece of my mind—a non-judgmental, five-star critique of his pettiness. But no, that would only earn me the title of Troublemaker. And I need that degree more than I need to call him out.
So, lips sealed, a Mona Lisa smile, and I’ll brave this nightmare. I’ll play the good, quiet student, while inside, I’m a boiling pot of frustration.
“Good morning class,” Professor Thompson chirps, marching up to the board. “I trust I need no introduction.”
And not in a good way.
Silence hangs in the air. When no one responds, he clears his throat. “I hope you all had a restful break. As we begin this semester, we’ll be delving into a project that will challenge your abilities to work in pairs.”
My personal hell.
I don’t mind working with others, but my schedule is like a Tetris game gone wild. Between late-night shifts at the library and hustling at the Campus Help Desk, I’m about to reach the top of the board and get the flashing game-over sign.
Maybe I could find someone I know and...
“Not so fast,” he continues, flashing a pile of papers. “I took it upon myself to decide the pairs.”
Yep, here comes the final nail in the coffin.
I can already see the drop in my GPA.
And this Media and Sports Management course? Not exactly my journalism major’s cup of tea. But, of course, it fits my schedule like the universe is playing a joke on me. I have to stick with it. Even if it means battling Butthurt Thompson and the Brigade of Ballplayers.
Or, as the fangirls call them, Crestwood’s Titans.
Crestwood University isn’t my dream school, but beggars can’t be choosers. And now I’m smack in the middle of basketball players who think they’re royalty. Skipping classes, bypassing rules, and living without consequences.
Voices rumble at the back of the room—players, no doubt. I don’t even need to turn around to know who’s causing the ruckus. Not that I care. Not with Professor Butthurt in command.
So, here I sit, a smile plastered, a storm brewing underneath. If only Professor Thompson knew how close I am to slapping a “Grown-Up Baby” sticker on his door. But for now, it’s a grin-and-bear-it situation, and I’m determined to bear it with style.
With a mental eye roll that could’ve won awards, I cling to my last shred of sanity. It’s gonna be a long semester.
And one never-ending class.
Tick-tock goes the clock, and Professor Thompson seems hell-bent on stretching my agony. He goes on, a syllabus marathon that rivals the slowest snail in history. He preaches about expectations and requirements—ironic, considering he’d once quoted the wrong source.
Though he rarely looks my way, when he does, I can tell he remembers me. Ergo - I’m screwed.
“Class is over for today. The TA will pass along the piece of paper with your partners.”
“You cannot change partner. You cannot request to do the assignment alone. This is a team project and unless your partner drops the class, you are stuck with them.”
Why does this feel oddly directed at me?
My fingers itch with anticipation as the TA approaches. Like ripping off a band-aid, I take the paper and flip it while holding my breath. The classroom buzzes with excited chatter as students eagerly discuss their newly assigned partners for the project.
But I can’t.
My gaze settles on the name scrawled on the paper: Carter Harris.
Butthurt seems like the perfect nickname for my professor. This whole setup is on purpose. And I’m not stupid enough to believe otherwise. Everyone knows Carter Harris, even me and even Professor Thompson.
Okay, okay... I don’t know him.
I’ve spotted him around campus—hard not to with his towering frame and a smile that helps him charm his way through any crowd. The prize jewel of the basketball team, he flaunts his flirtatious playboy image with as much pride as his skills on the court.
I don’t hang out with that crowd, so except for the once-in-a-lifetime spotting, I’ve mostly heard about him since his reputation follows him.
I don’t like giving the jocks exactly what they want, but I’m willing to make an exception. I have a feeling Carter would expect me to do the project alone, and I’d be happy to oblige.
I don’t have time to waste with him, only for Carter to not contribute anything.
Pushing through the students, I make my way toward the back of the room. My assumption is right on the money—Carter is there, leaning casually against a desk with an air of nonchalance, dark locks combed back. Even sitting, he manages to look ridiculously tall.
Our gazes meet, his green eyes lightening as he looks me over. Nerves flutter in my belly—I’d be lying if I said otherwise—but I squash them down. So he’s good-looking. Big deal.
“Carter Harris, right?”
His grin is as charming as advertised. But if he thinks charm is the key to my panties, he has another thing coming. Good looks don’t mean much when they’re attached to a puny brain.
“That’s me,” he answers, eyes flicking to his assignment sheet. “And you’re Madison.”
My eyebrows furrow, and I flick my tongue against the roof of my mouth. Of course, he’d fumble my name. I resist the urge to roll my eyes. “It’s Addison, actually.”
Carter’s grin doesn’t waver, and my left eye twitch. “Addison, got it. So, what’s the game plan for this project?”
How about the plan is I’m the workhorse while you bask in your Playboy glory?
“Listen, Carter, I know all about your reputation for letting others do the heavy lifting. I’m going to cut to the chase here: I’ll take the lead on this project. You won’t have to worry about a thing—I’ll handle everything. When it’s finished, just slap your name on it.”
Carter’s brows arch and for a brief second, I see his jaw tense. “Straight-shooter, huh?”
More like nobody has time for pleasantries. “Exactly. We both know we could spare ourselves the fake niceness and get this over with. That way, I won’t have to spend any more time in your presence than I need.”
Carter’s grin holds steady as if he’s studying me before he leans in a smidge. “I’ve got a counteroffer.”
A counteroffer? Seriously? Isn’t he supposed to play the part of the clueless jock? Maybe he isn’t used to the word no, or a woman not throwing herself at his feet.
Unfazed, Carter produces his phone and sets it on the desk. “How about you toss me your number, and we talk this out over coffee? You know, make working together less painful?”
I feel my patience snap as I lean in. I lay my hand on his phone, sliding it back to him. “No number. No coffee. No talking. It’s simple: I’ll do the work for the project, get the grade I need, and you stay out of my way.”
“What’s with the hate? I’m pretty sure I’d remember if we’d slept together—I’m assuming we haven’t. So what’s your deal?”
I level a pointed stare. “My deal is that I don’t have time for people like you. Contrary to your belief, not everyone wants you to get in their pants.”
With that, I turn on my heel and walk away, hoping I’m keeping my stance stiff. As if he’s sensed my frustration, he calls after me, “See you around, Madison.”
I almost stop walking, but I catch myself in time. I won’t give him the satisfaction of getting a rise out of me. But even as I walk away, I can’t shake the feeling that Carter Harris is going to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated.
I don’t need this.
Clearly, Carter is having fun messing with me. Once the crowd disperses, he’ll probably forget I even exist, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I have more important fish to fry, like heading over to the Campus Help Desk, where I plan to kill some time before my next class and catch up with...
I spot Jenna right away as I make my way down the hall. Jenna and I bonded during our first shift at the Help Desk, dealing with a particularly pissy student who had thrown a massive tantrum. We became friends after that.
Jenna is an Art History major with zero tolerance for nonsense. It’s one of the things I admire most about her. Plus, Jenna doesn’t fall over for the basketball players as half the female population does. She’ll be the perfect sounding board for my rage.
“Jenna!” I call out as I approach my friend.
Jenna halts in her tracks and spins around with a grin that practically lites up her blue eyes. “Addie!” she exclaims. “Ready for some first-day drama?”
I sigh dramatically. “Honestly, it can’t be worse than the hell I just escaped,” I reply, speeding up to match Jenna’s pace.
Jenna bends down to my level, towering over me since she’s almost five-foot-eleven, while I barely crack five-foot-one.
“First-day nightmare then?” Jenna asks.
Jenna unlocks the door of the counter, and I slip inside after her. I collapse into one of the chairs, slumping. “Oh, you have no idea. My first class was a Professor Thompson special.”
Jenna raises an eyebrow. “Stick-in-his-ass-didn’t-enjoy-being-called-out Thompson?”
I nod. “The very one.”
Jenna lets out a chuckle. “Only you, Addie, only you. So, did he make you suffer?”
I sigh. “Ugh, it was too bad until I found out I have to work on a project with Carter Harris.”
Jenna’s eyes go wide, almost comically so. “Carter Harris? As in Crestwood’s basketball superstar Carter Harris?”
I roll my eyes. “Yes, that very same Carter Harris. Professor Thompson personally handpicked our pairs, and there’s no changing them.”
Jenna grins and waggles her eyebrows. “Well, aren’t you just the luckiest girl on campus? Carter Harris is a total catch!”
I can’t help but scoff. “A catch? More like a nightmarish frat boy. He coasts through school because everyone else does his work, and he’s more interested in collecting phone numbers than passing exams. I don’t get the hype.”
Jenna chuckles. “Come on, Addison. You have to admit he’s easy on the eyes, even if he’s a bit of a player.”
I sigh again. Sure, Carter has the whole tall, dark, and handsome thing going for him, and his smile could probably melt ice. But what does that matter? “Easy on the eyes or not, he’s notorious for sleeping his way through half the female population and passing off other people’s work as his own. I don’t see the appeal.”
Jenna leans in, undeterred. “Rumor has it he’s actually quite the romantic. Maybe he’ll surprise you.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Romantic? Carter Harris? Please. He tried to woo me with a coffee date.”
Maybe Carter Harris isn’t the embodiment of evil, but that doesn’t mean I want to waste my time on him. He has no idea what it means to work hard, to study relentlessly because one lousy grade could shatter all my dreams. My scholarships are my lifeline, and I can’t afford to lose them. Carter wouldn’t recognize hard work if it slapped him in the face.
“You could hit it and quit it,” she offers as she nudges me.
“No thanks. First, I don’t need to be where everybody’s been. Second, waste of time.”
Not everyone agrees, but my tally of four sexual encounters has left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. My high school sweetheart had once called me “uptight,” which left me turned off.
Sure, I can feel the heat of passion rising, but when it comes down to it... things never quite reach their peak. At the time, I’d figured it was his issue, but then, during my first week at Crestwood...
No fireworks, no earth-shattering moments.
Then, I tried the vibrators, the dildos, but - nothing. It feels nice and all but - above that?
Not even close.
But honestly, who has the time for that?
“One run-in with Carter was more than enough, trust me. I’ve got zero intentions of letting him anywhere near my life.”
Jenna chimes in, leaning back in her chair, a book in hand. “I tried.”
I decide to follow Jenna’s lead and forget about Carter - he isn’t worth my time. Catching up on my readings is a smart move, especially since my full workload remains a mystery. His looks already get him enough attention and he doesn’t need mine on top of it.
“Hey, what did you say to Carter, by the way?” Jenna asks, tilting her head while her book rests on her lap.
“Oh, just that I’d handle the project on my own. Why?”
Jenna perks up in her chair, wearing a sly grin. No, I don’t like that look one bit. “Because he’s heading our way.”
“What?” My head snaps toward the approaching Carter. He wears that trademark cocky smile while his stupid hair bouncy with each step. Seriously, what is he doing here?
A tiny, illogical part of me hopes he has business elsewhere. He couldn’t possibly be concerned about campus matters or academics, right? But, true to form, he comes right up to our counter, gripping it with both hands, a self-assured grin on his face.
“Following you was not easy, Madison.”
“It’s-” No, Addison, don’t take the bait. He’s just looking for a reaction. This is Carter’s game, and he’s playing it well. “Why are you here? ‘No’ still means ‘no.’”
For a brief moment, Carter’s confident mask slips, but it’s back in place almost instantly. “I don’t know what you’ve heard...”
“-But I can handle my own stuff.”
Yeah, right. The rumours about Carter are legendary: cozying up to TAs, ditching exams, and yet miraculously passing every class. He’s known for arriving late to lectures, too. You don’t need to know Carter to know Carter.
“I told you, I’m not interested.”
“Professor Thompson made it clear that no one should work alone.”
“What he doesn’t-”
“And when you left, one of my buddies remembered you as the girl who put him in his place...”
Oh no. Seriously? Until the moment I talked to him, Carter had no idea who I was but now he does? At the worst possible moment?
“Which makes me think that if I go talk to him...”
He’d probably side with Carter and make things worse for me. Carter has a few tricks up his sleeve, after all. I glance at Jenna, who is doing a poor job of hiding her amusement. Some friend she’s turning out to be. This is definitely not funny.
Carter still wears that irritating grin, his head slightly tilted, his dark hair casually falling across his forehead. He hasn’t bothered to shave, sporting a bit of stubble across his square jaw which suggests he’s neglected grooming. Lazy.
Yeah, that’s what it looks like. Totally what his lack of grooming makes me think.
But none of this helps my predicament.
He knows it. He’s looking at me with that infuriating “gotcha” expression. Son of a bitch - how did he come prepared so darn quickly?
I cross my arms in front of my chest. “Yes, fine. Are you deaf?”
“Are you always this nice?”
“Only to jerks.”
“So you should be nice to me.”
“I don’t think so.”
“If I agree with you, will you give me your number?”
Fat chance of that. He might have gotten me by surprise, but it doesn’t mean I’m about to give up. “Friday night.”
He raises an eyebrow, and I roll my eyes. “I’m free on Friday nights. You can meet me at the library after my evening shift. 10-11 pm. Take it or leave it.”
Someone like him surely has better plans for a Friday night, and he will eventually realize this little game is pointless and give up. If he thinks he has me cornered, he has another thing coming.
Your move, Harris.
“Well, I don’t have any other-” I blink. “What?”
“I said, alright. I’ll see you at the library on Friday night.”
“See you around, Madison,” he repeats like earlier in class.
Carter flashes me a little wave and a cheeky wink as he slowly walks away from the counter, leaving me utterly dumbfounded. How in the world did this happen? It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
“You know,” Jenna starts, leaning forward and propping her elbows on the counter, “I think I can see the appeal.”
I swivel my head toward her, my eyes wide with disbelief. The appeal of Carter Harris? Not in a million years.