First person in her family to go to college? CHECK.
Straight A’s? CHECK.
On track to graduate early? CHECK.
Social life? …..yeah, about that….
With just a few weeks until she graduates, Antonella DeLuca’s beginning to worry that maybe she hasn’t had the full college experience. (Okay... Scratch that. She knows she hasn't had the full college experience).
So Nell does what a smart, dedicated girl like herself does best. She makes a "to do" list of normal college activities.
Item #1? Hook up with a jock.
Rusk University wide receiver Mateo Torres practically wrote the playbook for normal college living. When he’s not on the field, he excels at partying, girls, and more partying. As long as he keeps things light and easy, it's impossible to get hurt... again. But something about the quiet, shy, sexy-as-hell Nell gets under his skin, and when he learns about her list, he makes it his mission to help her complete it.
Torres is the definition of confident (And sexy. And wild), and he opens up a side of Nell that she's never known. But as they begin to check off each crazy, exciting, normal item, Nell finds that her frivolous list leads to something more serious than she bargained for. And while Torres is used to taking risks on the field, he has to decide if he's willing to take the chance when it's more than just a game.
Together they will have to decide if what they have is just part of the experiment or a chance at something real.
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Dallas and Dylan toss the disk back and forth a few times, and I groan when Carson and Silas make no effort to intercept or knock down the pass. I’m pretty sure it’s a distraction, so I stick tight to Brookes, and I notice Ryan edging closer to me, too. He must have the same idea.
Next thing I know, Dallas has sent the disk soaring over our heads, and when I look, Nell is standing alone, completely unguarded in the end zone.
She’s holding her hands out and staring at the disk like it’s a missile instead of a piece of plastic. I take off toward her in case she misses it. I want to grab the disk and get it back into play as soon as I can.
As I sprint, the disk slips right through her grasping fingers and nails her in the chest. She gasps; no doubt the air was knocked out of her. The disk ricochets, and if I dive I might can manage to catch it, but I can’t quite drag my eyes away from her chest. Her tits are practically spilling out of the top of the tiny tank she’s wearing. I’d had a front-row seat earlier with my arm around her. Now she’s clutching at herself in pain, but all I can see are her smooth, delicate arms pressed against the curve of her breasts, pushing them even higher.
I should look away before something very unfortunate occurs in my baggy gym shorts, but now I’m picturing that shy girl loosening up beneath me. It’s too easy to take those wide eyes she gave me when I draped my arm around her and imagine them in the low light of my room, her head on my pillow and her legs spread wide.
She makes a soft whimpering noise, and now the rest of my senses join the fantasy, and I think of how she would feel, taste, sound. I wonder just how low I could get her inhibitions. Enough to say my name? To scream it?
“Damn,” I groan, and try to clear my head. “You all right?”
She looks up at me, still clutching at her chest, and pink spreads over her cheeks. She doesn’t say anything.
“Okay,” I say. “There is honestly no way to ask this without sounding like a pig, so I’m not even gonna try. And really, in these situations, I find you might as well go balls to the wall and throw it all out there. So … at the risk of getting slapped, how are your tits?” I think about offering to check them out for her, but I figure that’s probably taking it a step too far.
Her mouth presses into a firm straight line. “It wasn’t my ...” She trails off.
“Tits,” I finish for her. “You have them. You can say the word.”
“It hit me in the collarbone, not the breasts.”
Breasts. I raise an eyebrow, and she rolls her eyes.
I take a step forward and say, “Let me see.”
I take another step, until my shadow falls over her, and take hold of one wrist. “As you pointed out, you weren’t hit in the breasts. Just let me have a look. With the right strength and good wind, a disk can go as fast as twenty miles per hour. I’ve seen them break fingers and noses.”
“Dude, Torres!” Silas shouts behind me. “What are you waiting for? Grab the disk and let’s go!”
Hesitating, I ask, “You wanna take a break? Catch your breath and let me see it?”
She shakes her head stubbornly. “I don’t want the game to stop because of me.”
I turn around and shout back to Silas, “Nell and I are taking a break. You guys keep playing with eight.”
Taking her elbow, I pull her off the field toward the picnic tables. She protests, but only mildly, and she still has one hand pressed just above her cleavage. And looking down at her, I can see moisture clinging to long lashes at the corner of her eye.
I sit her down so that her back is to the field, and go down on one knee in front of her. She’s so small that it puts us eye level, and I say softly, “Move your hand.”
“It’s fine,” she says. “Just give me a couple seconds, and I’ll be fine.”
You don’t grow up with five sisters without learning that sometimes with women, words are pointless. I reach out and move her hand myself, pulling it away from her chest. The skin just below her collarbone is an angry red, and the disk scraped through a couple layers of skin. Not enough to bleed, but I bet it hurts. “Tell me how it feels. Still a sharp pain? Or more of an ache?”
Her eyebrows slant over her pretty brown eyes. “The pain was sharp and steady for approximately thirty seconds, but now it kind of stings.”
“Like a slap,” I say.
She gives a short laugh, her shoulders bouncing once before she stills in what I’m guessing is pain. “I can’t say I know what that feels like. Though I’m not surprised it’s a sensation you’re familiar with.”
I shrug. “I don’t believe in censoring my thoughts. Some people just aren’t as fond of freedom of speech as I am.”
She shakes her head, and I think she’s trying not to smile.
I reach up my left hand and as lightly as possible run my thumb over the red mark. She sucks in a breath and I ask, “Hurts to the touch?”
“Um.” She swallows and blinks a few times.
“Does it hurt a lot?”
I brush my thumb over her skin again, even lighter this time, wondering if the Frisbee could have hit hard enough to crack something. There’s already a purpling around the center that tells me it’s going to bruise pretty good.
She swallows, and my eyes are drawn to the graceful slope of her neck, up to a small chin and full lips. And it hits me then … why this girl caught my eye from the moment she walked toward our group, why I can’t drag my eyes or my hand away from her now.
She reminds me of Lina.
And the memory of the only girl I’ve ever loved packs a punch so hard that it’s my turn to raise a hand to my chest to soothe an all-too-familiar ache.
Cora Carmack is a twenty-something writer who likes to write about twenty-something characters. She's done a multitude of things in her life-- boring jobs (like working retail), Fun jobs (like working in a theatre), stressful jobs (like teaching), and dream jobs (like writing). She enjoys placing her characters in the most awkward situations possible, and then trying to help them get a boyfriend out of it. Awkward people need love, too. Her first book, LOSING IT, is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller.
Review by Yvette:
What do you get when you combine a socially awkward intellectual in need of some loosening up and a swoon-worthy athlete known for being the life of the party? The answer would be my new favorite book in the Rusk University series by Cora Carmack, All Played Out. This is the third book in the series, following Mateo and Nell’s story and, not only was it everything I come to expect when I pick up a Cora Carmack novel (i.e. likable and relatable characters, a riveting narrative, and a sweet yet sexy romance), it was so much more. The reason for that is the connection between protagonists, Mateo Torres and Nell De Luca, who are such an intriguing couple to read about because they push each other to break free of their self-imposed typecasts. With Nell and Torres in the spotlight, All Played Out is an entertaining and lighthearted read with characters that kept me smiling from start to finish.
Quirky heroines are severely underrated. Think about it - in romance novels, heroines are typically either innocent wallflower types who often don't realize the extent of their obvious beauty, or ball-busting vixens capable of bringing a man to his knees. While I like reading books with either type of heroine, my favorite heroines are the more in-between types, mixing a variety of qualities and quirks that make a person unique. Nell is the perfect example of a multifaceted heroine. It's refreshing to read about a girl who prefers books over partying, who might be uncomfortable in certain social situations or who finds herself tongue-tied in the presence of a ridiculously good looking guy because it’s more realistic. That’s why her idea to make a bucket list of things to do before graduation was perfect, because it provided a way for her to venture out of her comfort zone and act her age for a change.
As someone known for being the life of every party, Mateo Torres is the ideal candidate to show Nell how to have a more “typical” college experience. His was a character that came as a pleasant surprise because, although he was initially portrayed as this carefree, wisecracking type, there's a different, more vulnerable side of him that's revealed via Nell’s matter-of-fact observations. It’s almost as if he’s two people, Torres to his football buddies and Mateo to Nell, the differences being more apparent the more we get to delve inside of his head. At first glance, Mateo and Nell seem to be polar opposites – he's aggressive where she's hesitant, he's experienced where she's sheltered, and he's fun and carefree while she's reserved – but they help balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses, each daring the other to take certain risks and open themselves up to a different path than they had originally planned.
What I loved most about Nell and Mateo’s relationship is their give-and-take, push-and-pull dichotomy. Nell is a reasonable and logical thinker, analyzing and cataloging the world around her, while Mateo is a take-action kind of guy. Despite, or maybe because of, their differences, the two just have an explosive chemistry that only burns brighter as the narrative progresses. The contrast of Nell's experimental approach to romance and Mateo’s willingness to satisfy her curiosity is undeniably sexy. All Played Out may be a New Adult romance but Nell and Mateo’s unrestrained passion is off-the-charts steamy. I devoured every sentence of Nell and Mateo’s story, finishing much too quickly for my liking and wishing for another hundred or so pages of their flirtatious and fun-filled romance.
*complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review
Rating: 5 Stars
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