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The raw hunger in his gaze set her throbbing and her nipples crinkled under her bikini.They had always gotten along remarkably well, and when they were younger Hailey had thought Ryan hung the moon. They were inseparable, until they grew up and they went their separate ways. Now she needs a favor—her roommate bailed and she needs a place to stay for the rest of the summer so she doesn’t have to move back home.Although he’s less than enthusiastic, Ryan agrees. To Hailey, it seems like the perfect time to recapture the closeness they once shared, except that Ryan avoids her whenever possible and seems determined to give her the cold shoulder. Hailey just doesn’t understand. What has she done to make Ryan dislike her so much?But what if the reason he’s keeping her at arm’s length isn’t because he doesn’t like her? What if it’s because he likes her too much?
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Roommates with Benefits
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About the Author
Hailey’s first clue that her life was going to Hell in a bucket was the moving truck in front of her house. As she walked up the driveway her roommate’s pudgy boyfriend Keith edged past her carrying a cardboard box stuffed to the bursting point with sweaters.
“Hiya, Hailey,” he puffed, careful to avoid meeting her eyes.
She muttered a hello through gritted teeth. Perhaps she should just turn around and get back into her car. A teetering pile of boxes blocked most of the steps and someone had propped the front door open with her two hundred dollar chemistry textbook. Before she could scream, her roommate Beth trundled into the foyer pushing a microwave cart.
“Oh, Hailey, I didn’t know you were home.”
“I just got here.” She dropped a foot in front of the cart and jolted it to a halt. “That’s my microwave, Beth.”
“Oh, right. Sorry, I forgot.”
“What’s going on?”
“Keith asked me to move in with him. Isn’t that great?”
Hailey closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. “Yeah, wonderful. Look, Beth, we agreed we were going to keep the house the rest of the summer.”
The other girl took a sudden great interest in her shoes. “I know, but I didn’t expect Keith to get serious this soon.”
“He probably just got tired of having to drive halfway across town every time he wanted to get laid,” Hailey muttered.
“Nothing.” She really hadn’t intended to say that out loud. It was probably just sour grapes; halfway through the spring semester her long-time boyfriend had dumped her for a freshman communications major with D-cup tits and the IQ of a gerbil. She didn’t regret losing him in particular so much, but she did miss the feelings of closeness, the intimacy that comes from spending lots of time with someone and really getting to know them.
Beth sniffed. “Anyway, I got so excited when he asked I just couldn’t say no.”
“Can’t you just be happy for me?”
She was going to grind right through the enamel of her teeth if she wasn’t careful. Patience had never been especially high on her list of virtues. “I’d be a lot happier if you weren’t leaving me stuck with all of the bills.”
“Hailey, I’m sorry, but you can find another roommate.”
“It’s summer and short notice. I’m not going to hold my breath.”
She went to her room, pulled a pillow over her head, and screamed into it until she felt better. An hour later she had confirmed her worst fears—everyone she knew had either gone home for the summer or was already locked into a lease until August, and there was no way she could cover the rent and bills on her own. Not and still eat, anyway. Unfortunately she didn’t know anyone looking for a roommate. After another thirty minutes on the phone trying everyone that she knew or was remotely acquainted with, she gave up. It had been a waste of time before she even started.
She refused to even think about going home. More than anything else in the world she wanted to finish her degree and get on with her life without ever having to move home again. Dad was demanding and overprotective, her stepmom was a witch in desperate need of having a house dropped on her, and after having her own space for two years the thought of having to cram herself back into her tiny bedroom there made her teeth hurt. Or maybe that was just from grinding her teeth so hard.
There had to be something else, something she hadn’t thought of.
Actually, there was one person she hadn’t called. She pulled up the number, her finger hovering over the dial button. Her stepbrother Ryan was a junior in the engineering program at the same university she went to. Fortunately he wasn’t much like his mom, and they had generally gotten along better than most of her friends did with their blood-related siblings. She had never asked him for a favor, though, and this one was a doozie.
A pang of guilt twisted inside her at putting him on the spot this way, but it was either that or three solid months of listening to her parents scream at each other across the breakfast table. She tapped her thumb on the call button and waited for him to pick up.
“Ryan, it’s Hailey.”
“Oh. Hi. Is everything okay?”
“Actually, I need a favor.”
Wariness crept into his voice. “What kind of favor?”
“Well, Beth flaked on me.”
“There’s a surprise.”
“Anyway, I’m stuck with no way to pay her chunk of the rent here, so I need a place to stay until school starts. Dad told me that you were going it alone for the summer, and I was wondering if you could use someone to help pay the bills.”
“Hailey, I don’t know. I really wanted some time alone this summer.”
“Please, Ryan? I don’t want to have to go home. You know what that’s like.”
“Yeah.” There was a very long pause. It dragged out into a very, very long pause.
He sighed. It was the kind of sigh intended to demonstrate precisely how much he was being put upon. “You move out in August, when school starts.”
“Absolutely. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You’re a life saver.”
“Just make sure you can cover your half of the rent.”
“I will. Um, I don’t suppose you could give me a hand moving?”
The line went dead. Hailey let it go, figuring she had pushed her luck far enough for one day.
Although she missed her old place, Ryan’s apartment had one thing her house hadn’t—a pool—and Hailey resolved to spend as much time in it as she possibly could keeping herself fit. Before she slid into her bikini she examined her ass critically in the mirror. She had spent too much time studying and not enough exercising this past semester, although it didn’t look as though she had done any real damage. At least the bikini still fit, even if it was a bit tighter than it had been a few months ago.
The pool also got her out of the apartment and away from Ryan. She was doing her best to make this easy on him, but it was obvious that he wasn’t thrilled about having her underfoot. She didn’t understand it, had expected him to get over his pique with her after a week or so, but he seemed more determined to avoid her with each passing day.
Ryan was smart. As a kid he had stuffed his room full of books and was always out in the garage building something. Whether it was a wooden stand to display his model cars or enigmatic electronic doohickeys he pieced together from components he bought at Radio Shack, Hailey could always count on finding him out there toiling away at some new project on Dad’s workbench. She used to watch him as often as he’d let her, fascinated by his talent to take a jumble of wood or electrical parts and create wonderful things based on some picture or idea that only existed in his head. Apparently he impressed the university, too, because they gave him a full scholarship to get a degree in electrical engineering.
She slung a towel over her shoulder with a sigh. They really had gotten along pretty well when they were still living at home—other than that time she managed to break both doors off his ’67 Camaro car model, anyway—and although they hadn’t spent much time together since he moved out after high school she was more than a little disappointed that things between them had turned so awkward. Ryan wasn’t outright rude, but he was aloof and kept to himself as much as possible. Hailey kept hoping she could win him over and would have given anything to have him flash that wry grin of his at her and everything go back to the way it used to be, but she was beginning to doubt whether she would make any headway before she moved out.
He had his nose buried in a book when she emerged from the bathroom, and he made a point of ignoring her.
“I’m going to the pool,” she announced. “Want to come?”
“No, thanks,” he muttered, not bothering to look up.
She shrugged, which caused her towel to slide off her shoulder, and as she bent down to pick it up she caught a movement from the corner of her eye. Ryan cast a long, lingering glance at her ass, and then quickly looked away as she straightened up. Oh, really?
She pretended as though she hadn’t seen. “I’ll be back later.”
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