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The Graham Effect by Elle Kennedy

The Graham Effect

by Elle Kennedy

Published by Bloom Books

Book 1 in the Campus Diaries Series

Gigi Graham has exactly three goals: qualify for the women’s national hockey team, win Olympic gold, and step out of her famous father’s shadow.

So far, so good, except for two little things. Fine–a little thing and a big, grumpy thing. She needs to improve her game behind the net, and she needs help from Luke Ryder.

Ryder is six-foot five, built, opinionated, rude…and sexy as hell. But he’s still the enemy.

Briar’s new hockey co-captain has his reasons, though. The men’s team just merged with a rival program, leaving Ryder with an angry roster where everyone hates one another’s guts. To make matters worse, the summer coaching spot he’s angling for with the legendary Garrett Graham is out of reach after he makes the worst possible first impression on his hero. So, really, this compromise with Gigi is win-win. He helps her make the national team, she puts in a good word with her dad.

The only potential snag? This bone-deep, body-numbing, mind-spinning chemistry they’re trying to ignore. It’s a dangerous game they’re playing, but the risks just might be worth it.



Traumatic death of parents during childhood



I might even like it more than The Deal?

I bought this book last year, and it's been sitting on my shelf ... just waiting ...

I got myself in a bit of a pickle last year because I devoted my time to a lot of arcs. And while I was introduced to many new authors - some of them becoming favorites of mine - my TBR suffered.

So The Graham Effect, despite being excited about it ... fell to the side a bit.

But my goal for 2024 was to limit my arc reads, and focus on my forever expanding TBR. When I saw the next book in the series was coming out, I knew I had to hurry up and read it.







Elle Kennedy is a favorite of mine, so I didn't doubt I would love it, but I did doubt I would love it as much as The Deal. But I might like it more.

The characters insanely likeable. I genuinely enjoyed both their points of views. I loved their characters arcs, and their personal hang ups. Completely understandable issues at that.

Gigi's goal to do something in the hockey world her dad can't/didn't do, and won't overshadow. A gold medal. Her dreams to be the best in women's hockey. Her genuine love of the game. She was a delight to read, and was the perfect combination of Graham and Hannah.

Luke - or Ryder, I should say - is so much like Graham, it's funny that Graham has a hard time coming around to accepting him. They both had issues with their father's, and are devoted to the game. I guess the difference is that while Graham was lighthearted and hid his pain, Ryder keeps his contained by being controlled in all things - including emotion. I enjoyed his arc just as much as Gigi's.

The banter and tension between these two was off the charts.

Seriously, the romance, and definitely the sex, was delicious.

That little twist at her tournament - wasn't expecting that.

I love being surprised, especially in contemporaries where, frankly, it's hard not to predict the outcome.

I want to take a moment to shout out to the world that Elle Kennedy writes some of the best side characters. I get so invested in all of them, and I love all their individual personalities and quirks.

Will all of them get a book? Doubtful, but a gal can hope.

In the Campus Diaries, Elle has expanded a bit in writing sexually fluid, LGBTQ+ characters, which I love as well. That was definitely missing in her Off-Campus and Briar U series'.

But listen, it's not only the romance and the steam that I loved.

I also adored the story.

The idea of a university buying the rival university when they go bankrupt, and the two rival teams needing to not only come together and compete for the limited spots on the Briar U team, but then come together and actually BE a team makes for lots of drama and interesting storyline.

The fact that Gigi's ex and her love interests are co-captains makes it all the more delicious.

The Graham Effect made me so happy. Seeing all these old characters again (Gigi and her "uncles" is amazing and Dean is still goals) just puts a smile on my face. I am really loving this new generation of Briar U. The Graham Effect is one of my favorite reads so far this year, and I can't wait for the next book out in May.



Forget turning out like my dad, a measly professional athlete. Or my mother, a mere award-winning songwriter. I was going to be Stanley Cup and rule the fucking world. I can’t remember who burst my bubble. Probably my twin brother, Wyatt. He’s an unrepentant bubble burster.

Gigi: “Sorry, but I’m not going anywhere. I really need to work on my spins and loop jumps, and from what I can see—”

I wave a hand around the massive, empty rink.

Gigi: “There’s plenty of room for both of us to practice. Now if you’ll excuse me, this prom queen really needs to get back to it.”

He scowls again.

Ryder: “I only called you that because I don’t know your name.”

Gigi: “Ever consider just asking my name then?”

Ryder: “Fine.”

He grumbles out a noise.

Ryder: “What’s your name?”

Gigi: “None of your business.”

Ryder: “Better skedaddle, Gisele, before you piss off Garrett Graham.”

I skate over to Ryder, playing dumb.

Gigi: "Garrett who?”

Ryder: “Are you shitting me right now? You don’t know who Garrett Graham is?”

Gigi: “Is he famous or something?”

Ryder stares at me.

Ryder: “He’s hockey royalty. This is his camp.”

Gigi: “Oh. Yeah. I only follow figure skaters.”

Ryder: “Dad?”

he growls under his breath.

Ryder: “You’re Garrett Graham’s kid?”

I can’t help laughing at his indignation.

Gigi: “Not only that, but I’m helping with your shooting drills today.”

His eyes narrow.

Ryder: You play hockey?”

I reach over to pat his arm.

Gigi: “Don’t worry, prom king, I’ll go easy on you.”

Connelly: On paper, absolutely. And I’m the first person to give credit where credit’s due. Chad Jensen is the most decorated coach in college hockey. Twelve Frozen Four forays and seven wins during his tenure at Briar. He holds the record for championship wins⁠—

Graham: Does your father-in-law pay you to be his hype man? Or you do it for free to score approval points?

Connelly: Says the man who won three of those seven championships under Jensen.

Whitney: “He’s fucking sexy,”

Cami: “It’s the slutty bad-boy dick magic. Makes them hotter.”

We all snicker.

Whitney: “God, that’s hot,”

Gigi: “Breaking up a fight?”

Whitney: “No, he managed to shut Trager up. Goddamn miracle right there.”

Cami: “Sexiest thing anyone could ever do,”

agrees Cami, and we all laugh.

Ryder: “Fucking hell,”

I mutter under my breath. Shane chuckles. On my other side, Beckett Dunne snorts.

I’d like to say my best friends have the whole angel/devil thing going on, where one is a dick and the other sits on my shoulder spewing kindness and compassion. I’d like to say that. But they’re both just assholes who take great amusement out of my misery.

Jensen: “Number two, and this is very important, so I hope you’re fucking listening. I will not clean up my language for you assholes. If your delicate sensibilities can’t handle a few f-bombs, then you have no business playing hockey.”

He writes something else. Fuck You

Graham: “Hey, gotta get those views somehow. Blood sells in hockey.”

Gigi: “You host a show with Jake Connelly, the most beautiful man in the world. Trust me, you’re going to get the views.”

Graham: “Nope, nope, nope. You know how I feel when you talk about Connelly’s stupid looks. It triggers my crippling inferiority.”

Gigi: “Okay, can we just stop with the fake outrage? We both know you’re going to do what she suggests in the end.”

Wyatt: “That’s not true,”

Gigi: “Really? So you’re not going to adjust the bridge of the song then?”

Wyatt: “If I do change the bridge, it’ll be because I feel like I should, not because Mom said so.”

Gigi: “Uh-huh. Sure. Keep telling yourself that, champ.”

I loudly cough out the words, “Mama’s boy.”

Wyatt: “I am not a mama’s boy.”

The outrage is back.

Gigi: “Isn’t your profile pic a photo of you and Mom?”

Wyatt: “Yeah, from the Grammys. Who wouldn’t use a picture of themselves at the Grammys?”

Gigi: “Anyway, I’m pretty sure I said hi to you in the hall today,”

Ryder: “You nodded.”

Gigi: “That’s the same thing as hi.”

Ryder: “Is it?”

I mock.

Gigi: “I don’t know.”

She sounds frazzled.

Gigi: “Why do you care so much if I greet you properly?”

Ryder: “I don’t care in the slightest.”

Gigi: “Then why did you bring it up?”

Ryder: “I’m already regretting it.”

Patrick: “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Coach glares at him.

Patrick: “Oh, sorry. I mean, are you kidding me? No f-bomb.”

Jensen: “Since when do I give a fuck about your language? I care about the interruption. Shut up.”

By the third period, Briar is ahead by three goals, and Gigi’s line is done for the night. The camera pans over to the Briar bench. She has her helmet off, dark hair in a sweaty ponytail. Unaware of the camera on her, she undoes the elastic band to slip it onto her wrist, and her hair tumbles down her shoulders in long loose waves. It’s then I realize that my dick is hard. Luckily, a knock sounds on my door before I commit a first and jerk off to a women’s hockey game.

Ryder: “I don’t need your pity Mercedes, rich boy.”

Shane: “Cool. We’ll ask the tow truck dude to grab your Jeep from the garage and have him tow you there while you sit in the driver’s seat and pretend to steer.”

Gigi: “You know, most people would compliment me on the fact that I won that shootout,”

Ryder: “Is that what you need from people? To be told what a good girl you are?”

Mya: “Uh-oh,”

Mya sighs. I open my eyes to find her peering down at me. Her expression is a mixture of amusement and concern.

Gigi: “What?”

I grumble.

Mya: “You need to get laid.”

Gigi: “No, I don’t. I’m fine.”

Mya: “You are not. I’ve been back for an hour, and I was already seeing the signs before you went full carpet. With that said, lying on the carpet is always the last straw.”

Gigi: “Stop. I do not lie on the carpet that often.”

Mya: “You totally do. This happens every time you max out your stress levels or get too overwhelmed. Then after carpet time, you get super crabby and start snapping at me for trivial shit like drinking from your monogrammed water bottle. And then Case comes over and bangs you, and you go back to being sweet little Gigi.” “I don’t think I’ve ever been sweet.”

Mya: “Fine, I’ll concede that. But don’t even try to argue the rest. You have a very predictable horniness cycle. And the second you get laid, suddenly you’re less crabby and our carpet is spared.”

Gigi: “I don’t like you.”

Gigi: “Did you actually bring me flowers?”

Ryder: “Yes,”

I have to bite my lip to stop from laughing. I’ve never seen anyone look more disgusted with their own behavior.

Gigi: “Look, we both know you’re a dick, but that’s just your personality, kiddo. You didn’t have to degrade yourself by bringing me apology flowers.”

He gives me a slight smirk.

Ryder: “Who says they’re apology flowers? Maybe they’re celebration flowers.”

Gigi: “Uh-huh. Really. What are we celebrating?”

He pulls his phone out of his back pocket and unlocks it. He scans the screen for a moment, and from my vantage point, it looks like he’s consulting a calendar app.

Ryder: “It’s International Eat an Apple Day.”

He lifts his gaze.

Ryder: “Seemed like something we should celebrate.”

I stare at him.

Gigi: “You’re making that up.”

He turns the screen toward me. Sure enough, on the list of international holidays, International Eat an Apple Day is actually a thing.

Ryder: “I really like apples,”

he says, carelessly smug.

Gigi: “You know, I think I like this Ryder. I had no idea you were so quirky.”

Ryder: “I am not quirky,”

Gigi: “Then why are we celebrating your love of apples?”

He thrusts the bouquet at me.

Ryder: “Just take the fucking things.”

Coach Jensen looks like he wants to murder everyone in the room, including his own colleagues. He approaches the microphone at the podium and gets things going in a brisk, irritated voice.

Jensen: “I would like to congratulate each and every one of you for ruining my Saturday plans with my granddaughter. She’s ten years old and recently developed an affinity for tiger sharks, and she cried when I told her I couldn’t take her to the aquarium today. Everyone, give yourselves a round of applause for making a ten-year-old girl cry.”

Beside me, Cami smothers her laughter with the sleeve of her hoodie.

Shane: “Hey,”

Gigi: “Hey,”

I play along.

Shane: “I’m Shane.”

Ryder: “Gigi.”

Shane: “Tell me something, Gigi.”

He slants his head.

Shane: “Are you an organ harvester? Because you’ve stolen my heart.”

Dead silence crashes over the room. Then I keel over with laughter. Due to my hysterics, I nearly drop the beer bottle on the carpet. Beckett plucks it from my hand before it tips over. Chuckling, he glances at his friend.

Beckett: “See?” '

Shane: “Yes, see? She’s laughing. I’m in.”

Shane narrows his eyes at me.

Shane: “Right?”

Gigi: “Well…”

Shane: “Come on, Gisele. You know that got you.”

Gigi: “I mean. I don’t know what it did to me, but…”

I take a breath, tamping down another wave of giggles.

Gigi: “What’s yours?”

I ask Beckett. He hands me the bottle back.

Beckett: “Do the weird head-bopping thing again.”

I oblige. Beckett comes at me with an equally confident gait. Fuck, these guys are sure of themselves.

Beckett: “Hi,”

Gigi: “Hi.”

He bites the corner of his lip.

Beckett: “I kind of want to fuck you. Do you want to fuck me?”

My jaw hits the floor. I close it, then open it. Finally, I find my voice.

'Gigi: “I…think I might be impressed.”

He smiles seductively.

Beckett: “Do you want to get out of here?”

Gigi: “Yes,”

I answer, a bit winded.

Gigi: “I think I do.”

Shane: “Oh, fuck this. No way in a million years would you react that way.”

I mull it over.

Gigi: “I might if I wanted to sleep with him.”

Shane: “Mine made you laugh.”

Gigi: “It did, but if we’re both there for sex”

—I nod toward Beckett—

Gigi: “I think he’s my man.”

He beams at me.

Beckett: “I knew I liked you, Graham.”

Gigi: “Your friends are trying to get me into bed,”

He shrugs.

Ryder: “Pick Shane. He just got dumped and needs the pity fuck.”

Shane flips up his middle finger. To me, he says,

Shane: “I didn’t get dumped. Like I keep telling these assholes, it was a mutual breakup.”

Gigi: “Oh, sweetie. There’s no such thing as a mutual breakup. Ever.”

Beckett snorts out a laugh.

Beckett: “See, mate? She gets it.”

Ryder tugs on his collar, ill at ease.

Ryder: “What now?”

Gigi: “Now we mingle.”

Ryder: “Kill me,”

Gigi: “How do you feel about murder-suicide? I could easily kill you, but I don’t think I can kill myself, so you’ll need to murder me and then take care of yourself. Is that something you’re comfortable doing?”

He looks at me.

Ryder: “Forget I said anything.”

Gigi: “What would you be doing right now if you were Case? How would you make it fun?”

Ryder: “If I was Colson.”

Gigi: “Yes.”

Ryder: “And you were my girl.”

Gigi: “Yes.”

Ryder leans in, his warm breath on my ear, sending a tiny shiver through my body.

Ryder: “We would have been behind this curtain five minutes after we got here.”

Gigi: “Doing what?”

I regret the question the moment I voice it.

Ryder: “Getting you primed.”

My throat closes up with arousal. I struggle to swallow.

Gigi: “Primed. Primed for what?”

Ryder: “For me.”

Oh my God. His voice deepens. Just a hint of gravel.

Ryder: “I’d use my fingers probably. Yeah. I’d press my fingers inside you. Get you close. But I wouldn’t let you come. Just close enough that your entire body hurts, and then I’d force you to go back out there. Watch you squirm while you talk to all those irrelevant people, until finally you’re begging me to leave so I can take you home and make you come.”

It’s the most animated he’s sounded since I met him. I can scarcely breathe. And the lack of oxygen gets worse when his hand finds my cheek. Rough fingertips scrape along my feverish skin. Ryder dips his head and brings his mouth close to mine. Our lips are a whisper away. My eyelids flutter closed as for one heart-stopping moment I think he’s going to kiss me.

Ryder: “But…I’m not Colson,”

he finishes, wearing the merest hint of a smile as he straightens up.

Ryder: We still on for later?

Gigi: Yup. Does it still work for you guys?

Ryder: We’re good.

Gigi: Thanks again for doing this.

Ryder: Sure.

Gigi: It must kill you that there isn’t a decent shrugging emoji. The current one has too much emotion in it for you. It’s the hand motions. Far too dramatic to accurately depict your shrugs.

Ryder: Is it too late to cancel?

Gigi: I love your quirky sense of humor! Kills me every time.

Ryder’s last message is the middle finger emoji. Yeah. That one suits him best.

Dean: “So then you’re playing the field now?”

Gigi: “I mean, I wouldn’t phrase it that way, but sure.”

Dean’s features crease with resignation.

Dean: “Damn it. I really didn’t want it to come to this.”

Gigi: “What does that mean?”

I ask suspiciously. I’m instantly on the alert. For a bunch of grown men, my dad’s friends are capable of shenanigans I never anticipate. He reaches for the messenger bag beside him on the bench. When I first saw it, I teased him about carrying a man purse. But I guess he keeps his work in it. Dean coaches the women’s team at Yale, which I suppose makes him the enemy, but not entirely since they’re not in our conference. If we play them in the finals, though, watch out. Uncle or not, I’ll happily destroy his girls.

Dean: “Here,”

I almost spit out my coffee when he places a box of condoms on the table. No, not just a box. A very large value pack containing a staggering fifty condoms.

Gigi: “What the hell is this? Oh my God.”

Dean: “I can’t have you acting irresponsibly now that you’re single. Better safe than sorry, Gigi.”

Gigi: “How much sex do you think I have? Nope, wait—”

I hold up my index finger, my tone stern.

Gigi: “Don’t you dare answer that.”

Dean snorts.

Dean: “I’m just saying… I remember college. Vividly. All the hormones. The parties. I want you to be safe, all right? And don’t tell your parents I gave you these.”

Gigi: “Oh, trust me, I’m never speaking about this again.”

Dean: “Also,”

he continues, cutting off a piece of the pecan pie with his fork,

Dean: “before you get involved with any dude, make sure he’s not the slut of the group. And if he is, get him tested. Because there’s always one slutty boy in every crew.”

I already regret what I’m about to ask, but curiosity wins.

Gigi: “Who was the slut in yours?”

Dean: “Tucker,”

is the instant reply. I take another sip from my coffee mug, eyeing him over the rim.

Gigi: “Tucker,”

I echo doubtfully.

Dean: “Of course.”

Dean blinks innocently.

Dean: “Dude knocked up a woman on a one-night stand. Can’t get more promiscuous than that.”

John Logan chooses that moment to return to the booth. He stares at the monster box of condoms. Then he glances at Dean and sighs.

Logan: “Yeah, I’m telling her father.”

Dean: “Like hell you are.”

Logan slides in beside me and pulls one of the pie dishes toward him. Strawberry rhubarb. I’m glad that we were able to make this quick meetup work. They both happened to be in the area today, which rarely ever happens because Uncle Dean lives in New Haven with his family.

Logan: “Can you put those away?”

Logan grumbles at Dean.

Logan: “Waitstaff is totally gonna get the wrong idea.”

The bill arrives then, and the two begin bickering about who’s going to pay it. I’m pretty sure it’s only like twenty bucks, and finally, I grab it myself.

Gigi: “Please, let me treat my dear uncles.”

I offer a beaming smile.

Gigi: “Young people should always be kind to the elderly.”

They both balk at me.

Dean: “Oh, I’m going to remember that,”

Logan: “I’m telling your father,”

Gigi: “He knows he’s old. You don’t need to remind him.”

A giant box of condoms lands at my feet. Beckett and I stare at it, then exchange an amused look. Gigi’s cheeks turn a shade of red that doesn’t exist in nature. She quickly kneels to collect the fallen items, shoving everything back in her purse.

Gigi: “You didn’t see that,”

I raise a brow.

Ryder: “Value pack, huh? Big plans this weekend?”

Gigi: “They’re not mine,”

she says through gritted teeth.

Ryder: “You’re a bad liar, Gisele.”

Gigi: “Okay, fine, they’re mine. But I acquired them against my will.”

Beckett: “Out of curiosity, how many rubbers do you require per session?”

Beckett pipes up, grinning with delight. She’s on her feet, trying another key. This one also doesn’t work.

Gigi: “Goddamn it. The keys are against me,”

she moans. Beckett’s still working through the condom math of it all.

Beckett: “I mean, a box of fifty, huh? Let’s be ambitious and say we go three or four rounds a night. That’s three or four condoms. Although I guess if it’s a group thing…you know, like the three of us here⁠—”

Gigi: “Oh my God. Would you stop?”

Beckett: “—then we’re talking two condoms at once, three or four rounds. That means you could hypothetically go through six to eight condoms per night. Damn. We’re knocking that whole box out in less than a week.”

Gigi sighs and looks my way.

Gigi: “Is he always like this?”

Ryder: “Pretty much,”

She locates the right key, and the loud breath of relief she releases makes me chuckle.

Gigi: “There.”

She pushes open the door for us.

Gigi: “Go suit up.”

Beckett: “Should we put the condoms on now or after?”

Gigi: “I hate you.”

She moves down the hall toward the women’s locker room.

Beckett: “What about you?”

he asks as he sits on the opposite bench to lace up his skates.

Ryder: “What about me?”

Beckett: “You interested?”

I lift my head to find him grinning at me.

Ryder: “Sorry, brother. I think you’re pretty, but I just don’t feel any sparks.”

Gigi: “Okay,”

Gigi says, beaming. She skates a few circles in front of us.

Gigi: “I’m your willing student.”

Beckett groans softly.

Beckett: “Don’t say things like that. I can’t skate with a stiffie.”

Beckett: “I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t select you. You’re ridiculously good. Ryder showed me some of your game tape, and you’re one of the best skaters I’ve ever seen.”

She glances at me, smirking.

Gigi: “You’re showing people my film? That’s so cute. I knew you were obsessed with me.”

I roll my eyes.

Shane Lindley wanders into the hall holding a can of beer. He looks surprised but pleased to see me.

Shane: “Hey,”

he says, flinging his arm around my shoulder.

Shane: “How’d they manage to lure you into enemy territory?”

Gigi: “There was no luring involved. I was bored and decided to do you all a favor by gracing you with my presence.”

He snorts.

Shane: “We’re honored.”

Beckett follows my gaze.

Beckett: “Wanna dance?”

Gigi: “Nah, I’m good.”

Beckett: “Thank God. I hate dancing.”

I can’t help but laugh.

Gigi: “Then why’d you ask?”

Beckett: “Seemed like the less sleazy way of saying I want your body pressed up against mine.”

Beckett blinks. Then he starts to laugh.

Beckett: “Oh. I see.”

Ryder: “What?”

Beckett: “When you said you weren’t interested… It was opposite day. Got it.”

Jensen: “Miss Delmont from the public relations department has signed us up for a team-building course that will run every Monday for the next six weeks.”

Our goalie, Joe Kurth, looks like he’s going to throw up. He leans forward in his chair and drops his face in his hands.

Shane: “Public relations is a scourge on society,”

Shane mumbles beside me.

Jensen: “Now, there is nothing I hate more in this world than team-building activities. With that said, I have great news—I was informed that I personally don’t have to participate, so…”

For once in his life, Jensen is positively beaming.

Jensen: “I’d like to introduce you to Sheldon and Nance Laredo. Do everything they ask, or you’re off the team. I’ll leave you to it.”

I half expect him to put some flowers in his hair and skip off the stage like a giddy schoolgirl. He chuckles all the way to the exit.

Rand: “Someone. Please. Please kill me now. I’ll pay you.”

Several chuckles ring out. And not just from the Eastwood guys. Patrick Armstrong shoots his hand up to get the robots’ attention.

Patrick: “Did you see that? We don’t need team unity!”

He points at Rand, then Trager.

Patrick: “He laughed at his joke, and they hate each other. See, we’re all done here. Let’s go, everyone.”

Nance: “For the next hour, we’re going to do just that. Is everyone ready?”

Everyone is not. We all look at her sullenly.

Nance: “Our first activity is called Name and Thing. Grab the beanbag, Shel!”

Beckett: “Why is there always a beanbag?”

sighs Beckett. Sheldon darts over to a large plastic tub containing horrors I hope never to have to see. He scoops out a pink beanbag and returns to the circle, tossing the bag back and forth between his own hands. He looks so excited I expect urine stains to appear at the front of his khakis at some point.

Nazzy: “I don’t want to play hockey anymore,”

Nazzy says solemnly, looking around.

Nazzy: “I quit the team.”

I roll my eyes.

Gigi: “I love how you think you’re that good of a lay that a woman would go to extreme lengths to win your penis back.”

Ryder: “I am that good of a lay.”

He says it dead seriously.

Gigi: “All right, enough chatter. Drop the puck, bitch.”

He snorts.

Ryder: “Did you really just call me bitch?”

Gigi: “Yes. I’m practicing my trash talk.”

I stop.

Gigi: “Wait. I just realized I can’t use it during a game. I could never call another girl a bitch, even if I secretly think she is one. That’s so derogatory.”

Ryder: “But you can call me that?”

Gigi: “Yes, quite easily, actually. It’s alarming.”

Gigi: “One sec,”

I tell my friends, reaching for the phone. I swipe to answer, my tone wary.

Gigi: “Hello?”

I don’t get a hello back, or even a normal sentence. His rough voice fills my ear with two inexplicable words.

Ryder: “Use me.”

Mya: “Beety is not a word!”

Mya screeches in outrage when Diana tries adding a Y to board.

Diana: “Sure it is.”

Mya: “Use it in a fucking sentence.”

Diana: “I don’t like this salad because of all the beets. It’s too beety.”

Mya: “G, back me up here,”

I glance up from my tray.

Gigi: “I’m vetoing beety.”

Diana: “Traitor,”

Patrick: “So, ah, wormholes.”

He hesitates, looking around the group.

Patrick: “Are there worms in them?”

He’s greeted by pure silence. Even Will Larsen has twisted around in his seat to stare at Patrick.

Patrick: “Theoretical worms?”

Patrick corrects. He looks utterly lost.

Patrick: “Am I saying it right?”

Shane takes pity on him.

Shane: “It’s okay. You’re really handsome.”

He doesn’t realize he’s being insulted until after Shane has already gone back to texting his cheerleader.

Patrick: “Wait. Fuck you,”

Gigi: “Look at that. Do you see what’s happening?”

Ryder: “What?”

Gigi: “We’re having an actual conversation.”

Ryder: “Fuck. You’re right. Come here.”

I move closer to him. I put my hand on his thigh. He glances down at it, then up at me. Slightly amused.

Gigi: “My hand is on your thigh,”

Ryder: “I noticed.”

He smiles, and my breath hitches at the sight. Then he chuckles.

Ryder: “I love how you announce your move. ‘My hand is on your thigh.’ You know, most people would just make the move and then wait to see if it works.”

Gigi: “What can I say? I’m a rebel.”

Ryder: “Got it. So, what’s the next move, rebel?”

he asks with uncharacteristic playfulness.

Gigi: “Ask me if you can kiss me.” '

His eyes grow heavy-lidded.

Ryder: “Can I kiss you?”

Gigi: “No. I’m not interested.”

He barks out a laugh.

Ryder: “Hmmm. Should we tell him?”

Gigi: “Don’t be an ass.”

Sighing, I put the phone aside.

Ryder: “No, maybe we should.”

His voice is silky. A rasp of provocation.

Ryder: “Let’s tell him all about how you’re in my lap—”

He tugs me back onto said lap, then captures my surprised squeak with another blistering kiss. He lifts his lips slightly, his breath tickling me.

Ryder: “Let’s tell him how much you like having my tongue in your mouth.”

Gigi: “Who says I do?”

I’m breathless, because his lips are exploring mine, his tongue teasing me into oblivion. He breaks the kiss again. We’re both breathing hard now.

Ryder: “You love it,”

Gigi: “You love it too,”

Ryder: “Yes, I do,”

he growls before our mouths collide.

He lifts his head.

Ryder: “Are you going to come if I keep doing this? Or would you rather come while I’m fucking you?”

Gigi: “Both.”

His lips curve in approval.

Ryder: “Greedy girl.”

Gigi: “I can’t believe you just walk around with this thing in your pants,”

I say, feeling a bit dizzy. In a good way. He’s much bigger than I’m used to, but I can’t wait to feel him inside me. He grins at me.

Ryder: “That’s sweet of you to say.”

Gigi: “Aw, you used the word sweet in a sentence.”

I start stroking him, bringing a flash of heat to his eyes.

Ryder: “I think maybe you need to put that smart mouth to better use,”

Gigi: “Really. Because I like using it to make fun of you.”

Ryder: “Oh shit. I don’t know if I have condoms.”

He peers at me, pensive.

Ryder: “Can I use one from your box of five hundred?”

Gigi: “Fuck off.”

I start to laugh. He grins.

Gigi: “Do you really not have a condom?”

Ryder: “No, I do. Just wanted to bring attention to your bulk condom purchases.”

Ryder: “Is that how you make yourself come when you’re alone?”

I nod.

Ryder: “Just the clit? No fingers?”

Gigi: “Not usually.”

Ryder: “What if I came over and helped you sometime? Fucked you with my fingers while you rubbed your clit.”

Gigi: “What about…”

It’s getting difficult to breathe.

Gigi: “Why not your dick?”

Ryder: “That too. I’ll give you any part of me you want. If it gets you off, it’s yours.”

Gigi: “I like this Ryder. The Ryder who talks like this. I like these words.”

Fucking hell. I initiated a conversation. Willingly. What is happening and how do I stop this?

Beckett: “So, sex marathon. I would’ve invited someone over myself if I’d known that’s what we were doing.”

Ryder: “I didn’t have anyone over,”

Beckett: “Bullshit. Someone was getting fucked good last night. What time did we get home?”

he asks Shane.

Beckett: “Ten thirty? Started hearing the sex noises around then.”

Christ. They were home for nearly four hours before I even noticed? Uneasiness washes over me. I don’t think I’ve ever lost my head over a woman like that. Ever. I turn to grab a loaf of bread from the pantry. Stalling.

Shane: “Dude. That was me.”

Beckett: “Really? I thought you got a BJ from that chick at the concert. You booty-called someone after we got home?”

Shane: “No. Porn, dude.”

He rolls his eyes as if it’s obvious.

Beckett: “Those sex noises were going on for like four hours.”

Beckett gapes at him.

Beckett: “You were jerking it for that long? How is your dick still attached?”

Shane: “I was doing this, ah, edging thing I keep hearing about.”

Beckett: “Right. I hear that’s popular in the porn community,”

Beck says solemnly. Shane gives him the finger.

Shane: “Whatever. I’m young. I can do whatever I want with my dick. Mind your business.”

Nance: "Be warned—it is going to get loud in here. So, please, no cursing. Because I don’t like to hear it. I am a lady.”

Sheldon: “A sexy lady,”

Sheldon says, beaming at her. Beckett raises a brow.

Beckett: “Yikes,”

he says low enough they can’t hear.

Nance: “Communication is key in this exercise. As it is in nearly every aspect of our lives. Without communication, for example, our marriage would not thrive.”

Now they’re beaming at each other.

Patrick: “Wait, what? You’re not brother and sister?”

Sheldon frowns at him.

Sheldon: “We’ve been happily married for twenty-two years.”

Patrick remains entirely unconvinced.

Patrick: “Come on. You’re just playing around now. You’re brother and sister,”

He turns to the group for backup.

Patrick: “Am I the only one who thought that?”

Shane laughs silently into the crook of his arm, broad shoulders shaking.

Sheldon: “In fact, one of our side gigs is marriage counseling. We work primarily with couples whose marriages suffer from communication hiccups. So, if any of you young men are married and need guidance…”

Player: “I’d rather get divorced,”

Gigi: “You can’t stop thinking about me, huh?”

Ryder: “Yes.”

He sounds perturbed.

Ryder: “It’s a problem.”

Ryder: “Anyway. Here.”

An amazed laugh sputters out of my mouth when he holds out a crumpled daisy. It must have been crammed in his jacket pocket this whole time. It’s not in great shape, this poor flower.

Gigi: “Oh my God. You’re bringing me apology flowers again? Can’t you ever apologize without all the pageantry?”

He smirks at me.

Ryder: “It’s not an apology flower. It’s to celebrate National Dessert Day.”

Gigi: “That is not a real day.”

Ryder: “Yup. I looked it up.”

I think it over.

Gigi: “All right, I accept. I do love dessert.”

I offer an overly lascivious grin.

Gigi: “Seems like you do too.”

Ryder: “I mean, when the dessert is your pussy, I’ll eat it any day of the month.”

Gigi: “Is this really how you’re spending your Sunday morning? You losers.”

I snort.

Ryder: “You’re literally doing the same thing.”

Gigi: “Just setting up my playlist,”

Dread rises inside me.

Ryder: “No,”

Gigi: “Yes,”

she confirms with a broad smile.