Emma Blake walked onto the basketball court, trying to find the rest of her group. She held an ugly grey t-shirt that she was supposed to be wearing, almost dragging it by her side. It had been handed out to her moments before by one of the team building organizers. She much rather wear her cute sports tank top so she was trying to hold off until the last possible moment to put on the offending clothing. After all, organized sports and team building were not her thing.
She couldn’t believe this was her first day of graduate school. Shouldn’t she be at some type of orientation where everybody is jammed together in one room and forced to do awkward introductions? At least that’s what she always assumed it would be like it.
Instead, she was expected to play none other than basketball before even properly meeting anyone in her class. What is more, they had switched up the regular assigned groups so in reality she wouldn’t even be “team building” with the people she had to actually work with for the rest of the semester. What was the point of that?
She went to sit down by an area designated “Team B” where a few others were already gathered. She barely caught anyone’s name but turns out they were all from different countries such as Colombia, Switzerland and Italy. Quite the international crowd. She didn’t add much to the group conversation while they waited for everyone to settle down. She also didn’t pay much attention to the head organizer when he started talking and gave his version of a big motivational speech, which included mentioning Michael Jordan every five minutes. At the end he just concluded to “go play some ball”.
Emma hadn’t played basketball since high school, but she was certainly no stranger to the NBA, meaning she had a pretty good understanding of the rules and all. At the moment, all they really had to do was pass the ball around and practice shooting some hoops. Sounded easy enough. If only the ugly t-shirt she had begrudgingly resorted to wearing wouldn’t cramp her style.
“Alright everyone, gather around,” the head organizer called out after an hour of shooting around. “We’ll be moving on to the interesting stuff now. Each group will be competing against each other in a series of drills you need to complete as a group. First team to successfully complete all of the drills wins. We have three coaches here who will explain the details to you and answer any questions you have.”
One of the coaches went over the drills with her group and one other. They had to complete three different drills that seemed pretty standard enough. They had to dribble around some cones, pass the ball to each other without dropping it, and finally make a basket seated in a chair from the free throw line.
Most people immediately dispersed after the instructions were given to divide the tasks between team members, but Emma decided to probe the coach a bit more. The instructions had seemed pretty vague to her.
“So what exactly are the rules?” she asked him.
“You’re going to need to be more specific than that,” he answered.
“Well, is there anything we can or can’t do?”
“I can only give yes or no answers. Rephrase the question.”
Ugh, he was being so cryptic. She looked out towards the court and considered just dropping the whole thing. She was running out of time and needed to talk to her group and find out what the hell she was supposed to do. She eyed the basketballs set in the middle of the court, to the cones, and the chair.
“You said it was all about completing each drill successfully, but didn’t mention any particular order. Does that mean we have to do them in a sequence, like one after the other?”
His eyes lit up and he smiled at her. “No.”
“So you’re saying we can do the drills at the same time?” a deep yet soothing voice asked right behind her. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise at the way the words had curled around in an elegant British accent.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying,” the coach responded.
“Wait a minute,” she said turning to look behind her, but stopped dead in her tracks.
The most intense pair of hazel eyes were staring right at her and studying her face, seeming amused at something. A quick glance at him revealed rugged features, wavy brown hair, and despite the ugly grey t-shirt, he had rolled up the sleeves and she could tell he had a lean and toned body she was just dying to get her hands on.
Oh, no. Where the hell had that thought came from? She had no business thinking about him like that and immediately flushed at her wayward thoughts. She pulled on the collar of her t-shirt trying to stretch it out as it suddenly felt like it was choking her neck.
“You were saying?” he teased.
Oh right. She had forgotten she was supposed to be mad at him and quickly regained her composure. “This is a private conversation. You can’t just sneak up in here and be privy to the intel I’m gathering,” she accused.
Ignoring her, he turned towards the coach. “Is that a rule?” he asked.
“Unfortunately, no,” he responded.
“Then I rest my case. Good luck, sweetheart,” he said walking away.
Sweetheart? The nerve! She wasn’t expecting that from him at all. Not that she knew anything about him, but weren’t British people supposed to be really nice? She immediately went after him, and pulled on his arm stopping him. “Is that how you’re going to play it then?”
“You heard the coach. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go prep my team.”
“Fine, go ahead. I’ll still beat your sorry ass,” she said shoving him in the chest and turning away. The big jerk!
“Is that so?” he called out behind her, laughing. “Care to make it interesting?”
“Define interesting,” she said, turning back and looking at him suspiciously.
“I’m talking about a wager, of course. My sorry ass against your very fine ass.”
“Deal,” she immediately said, offering her hand to him. She idly wondered if the terms he had set for their agreement meant he had been checking out her ass earlier or if it was just a figure of speech.
Before she could ponder that further, he took her hand and shook it gently, warmth instantly spreading throughout her arm. “See you on the court, sweetheart.”
Dammit, there he said it again! She went running back to her group to inform them of her findings, shaking her head the entire way. She hadn’t been in school for an hour and already she was getting in a tiff with some random guy. She usually didn’t get heated easily, but something about him had just set her off. The cocky bastard.
After quickly going over the game plan with her group, she took her spot in line and waited for the whistle. She sneaked a glance over towards Mr. British High and Mighty and he was looking straight at her again, a stupid grin plastered on his face. She immediately frowned at him and gave him the evil eye. He responded by pointing two fingers at his eyes and then towards her and mouthing, “I’m watching you.”
Real mature, buddy. She almost flipped him the bird, but then had to remind herself she wasn’t in middle school anymore.
The whistle blew and it was instant chaos. Most people had no clue what they were doing and you couldn’t hear anything over all the yelling and cheering. When it was Emma’s turn, she got right to it. She had been given the easiest task. All she had to do was catch and pass the damn ball with another person down the court without dropping it. When she finished her task, she turned around just in time to witness Brit boy making the final winning basket and his team cheering him on like he was some goddamn hero.
Asshole. If they only knew he was a giant, scheming cheater. Ugh, she couldn’t believe she just lost the bet to him. She knew she wouldn’t hear the end of it.
She turned around and walked towards the cubbyhole area in the back, ready to gather her belongings and leave. She sat down on the floor and was about to pull on her sweats when someone hovered over her.
Expecting it to be the British fraudster, she looked up ready to give him a piece of her mind. To her surprise, it was some tall blond dude eyeing her indecently. “Cute shorts,” he said.
She huffed and looked away from him. She was wearing regular black running shorts that were completely ordinary. Ignoring him would probably be the best tactic.
“Let me know if you need help taking those off,” he continued.
What the hell was in the water in this country? Before she could even begin to respond to that, Mr. Scam Artist decided to join the party. Great, just what she needed.
“Is this guy bothering you?” he asked her very seriously.
“I was just leaving,” she responded.
“That’s too bad. We were just getting to know each other,” blondie answered.
“Take a hike, Richard,” he snapped at him.
“Richard, huh? I knew you looked like a Dick,” Emma added, enunciating the Dick. She heard some laughter come from the Brit and a smile overcame her, momentarily forgetting their strife. At least someone had caught on to her humor.
“Oh, that’s real original. Like I haven’t heard that before, legs,” Richard countered.
“I’m serious, man. Leave her alone. She’s mine.”
Okay, strike that. The guy really was an asshat. “Excuse me? You’re both delusional,” she said standing up and walking away. She felt footsteps behind her but continued straight on her path anyway. She needed to get the hell out of there.
“Emma. Hold on a minute,” the British accent followed her.
“What do you want? And how do you even know my name? I don’t remember any formal introductions. You’ve been anything but.”
He simply shrugged. “I asked around. I’m Max by the way.”
“Well, it was nice knowing you, Max. See you around,” she said sarcastically.
“What about the bet?”
“What about it? You won. Are you happy now?”
“Not really. I’m still waiting to collect my prize.”
“What are you talking about? We didn’t bet on anything. As far as I’m concerned, all you won were bragging rights.”
“I don’t think so, sweetheart. Your lovely ass is mine,” he stated as a matter of fact. “Remember?”
“I’m not your damn property because of some stupid bet. And can you stop calling me that? Apparently you went through the trouble of learning my name so you might as well start using it,” she pointed out.
“I’ll try but I can’t promise anything … Emma,” he said enunciating her name.
She rolled her eyes at him and shifted her position. It was then she noticed a group of girls staring at them from across a corner and giggling. Seriously? “Are we done here? I have to go.”
“Let me give you a ride then,” he offered.
“I don’t think so.”
“C’mon, it’s the least you can do after losing the bet.”
“Why don’t you just ask one of the girls from your fan club? I’m sure they’ll be more than willing for a quick ride.” She was on a roll with the puns today.
“Last I checked I didn’t have a fan club to offer rides to,” he said amused.
“Are you sure about that?” she asked motioning behind him.
He took a peek behind him and sure enough the girls started giggling again and batting their eyes at him. Yes, she was definitely in middle school all over again.
“Great. Well that’s your fault,” he said sighing and looking back at her.
“Don’t blame me. You stole my intel and had to go showing off about it. So now deal with it.”
“Please, Emma. Just do me this one favor so they’ll get off my back. Last thing I need is a bunch of girls following me around.”
“Oh, poor baby. I feel so sorry for you. I really do.” She noticed the girls approaching them and she motioned them over. “Chicas, have you met Max? He was just telling me he has plenty of space in his big ol’ car if any of you need a ride.”
“Oh my God, really?” one of the girls squealed.
Max never dropped his gaze from her and was looking at her with pleading eyes.
“Don’t be shy, Max,” she said patting him on the cheek. “Well, I gotta run. You guys have fun, okay?” she said before making a beeline towards the exit.
Ha! Take that, scumbag! She had to admit she was pretty damn proud of herself right about now. Who knew grad school could be so exciting? She certainly hadn’t had this much fun in months. Maybe moving to Madrid wasn’t such a bad idea after all.