Beautiful Player page 1

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Prologue

We to be in the ugliest apartment in every one of Manhattan, and also it wasn’t just that my mind was specifically programmed far from arts appreciation: objectively these paints were all hideous. A hairy leg growing from a flower stem. A mouth v spaghetti pouring out. Beside me, my oldest brother and my dad hummed thoughtfully, nodding as if they construed what they were seeing. Ns was the one who preserved us moving forward; it seemed to it is in the unspoken protocol that party guests must make the circuit, admire the art, and only climate feel complimentary to gain the appetizers being lugged on trays around the room.

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But in ~ the really end, above the substantial fireplace and between 2 garish candelabras, to be a paint of a twin helix—the structure of the DNA molecule—and printed throughout the entire canvas was a quote through Tim Burton: us all know interspecies romantic is weird.

Thrilled, i laughed, turning to Jensen and also Dad. “Okay. That one is good.”

Jensen sighed. “You would like that.”

I glanced to the paint and earlier to mine brother. “Why? since it’s the only thing in this entire place that makes any sense?”

He looked in ~ Dad and something passed between them, part permission granted from father to son. “We have to talk to you about your relationship to your job.”

It take it a minute before his words, his tone, and his identified expression motivated my understanding. “Jensen,” i said. “Are we really walk to have actually this conversation here?”

“Yes, here.” His eco-friendly eyes narrowed. “It’s the very first time I’ve watched you out of the lab in the past two days as soon as you weren’t sleeping or scarfing down a meal.”

I’d often listed how it appeared the most significant personality properties of mine parents—vigilance, charm, caution, impulse, and also drive—had been divided cleanly and without contamination among their five offspring.

Vigilance and also Drive were headed into battle in the center of a Manhattan soiree.

“We’re at a party, Jens. We’re claimed to it is in talking around how wonderful the arts is,” i countered, waving vaguely to the walls of the opulently furnished living room. “And exactly how scandalous the . . . Something . . . Is.” I had no idea what the recent gossip was, and also this little white flag that ignorance just proved mine brother’s point.

I watched together Jensen tamped down the urge to roll his eyes.

Dad handed me an appetizer the looked something choose a snail ~ above a cracker and I discreetly slide it ~ above a cocktail napkin together a caterer passed. My brand-new dress itched and also I wished I’d taken the moment to ask roughly the lab about these Spanx things I had actually on. Indigenous this an initial experience v them, I decided they were produced by Satan, or a guy who was also thin because that skinny jeans.

“You’re not just smart,” Jensen was telling me. “You’re fun. You’re social. You’re a nice girl.”

“Woman,” ns corrected in a mumble.

He leaned closer, keeping our conversation covert from passing partygoers. Sky forbid one of brand-new York’s high culture should hear him giving me a great on how to be more socially slutty. “So i don’t know why we’ve been visiting you here for 3 days and also the only world we’ve hung out with are my friends.”

I smiled at my oldest brother, and let mine gratitude because that his overprotective hypervigilance to wash over me prior to the slower, heated do the washing up of irritation rose along mine skin; it to be like touching a warm iron, the spicy reflex adhered to by the prolonged, throbbing burn. “I’m nearly done through school, Jens. There’s many of time because that life after this.”

“This is life,” he said, eyes large and urgent. “Right now. As soon as I was your age I to be barely hanging on to mine GPA, simply hoping I would certainly wake up on Monday and also not it is in hungover.”

Dad was standing silently alongside him, ignoring the last remark yet nodding in ~ the basic gist that i was a loser v no friends. I offered him a look that was supposed to communicate, I get this coming from the workaholic scientist who spent more time in the lab 보다 he go in his very own house? yet he remained impassive, put on the exact same expression he had actually when a link he supposed to be soluble finished up a goopy suspension in a vial: confused, maybe a small offended on principle.

Dad had given me drive, yet he constantly assumed mom had provided me even a little charm, too. Maybe due to the fact that I to be female, or maybe since he thought each generation should enhance upon the actions of the one before, i was intended to perform the entirety career-life balance far better than the had. The day Dad rotate fifty, he’d traction me right into his office and also said, simply, “The world are as crucial as the science. Find out from my mistakes.” and also then he’d straightened some records on his desk and also stared in ~ his hands until I obtained bored enough to get up and also go ago into the lab.

Clearly, i hadn’t succeeded.

“I recognize I’m overbearing,” Jensen whispered.

“A bit,” i agreed.

“And I understand I meddle.”

I offered him a knowing look, whispering, “You’re my own personal Athena Poliás.”

“Except I’m no Greek and also I have a penis.”

“I try to forget about that.”

Jensen sighed and, finally, Dad appeared to gain that this was meant to it is in a two-man job. They’d both come under to visit me, and although it had seemed a strange combination for a random visit in February, i hadn’t offered it much thought till now. Dad placed his arm roughly me, squeezing. His arms were long and thin, however he’d constantly had the viselike fixed of a male much more powerful than that looked. “Ziggs, you’re a good kid.”

I smiled in ~ Dad’s variation of fancy pep talk. “Thanks.”

Jensen added, “You understand we love you.”

“I love you, too. Mostly.”

“But . . . Consider this an intervention. You’re addicted come work. You’re addicted to everything fast monitor you think you require your job to follow. Maybe I constantly take over and also micromanage her life—”

“Maybe?” I cut in. “You dictated everything from as soon as Mom and Dad take it the cultivate wheels turn off my bike to as soon as my curfew might be expanded past sunset. And you didn’t also live at house anymore, Jens. Ns was sixteen.”

He stilled me with a look. “I oath I’m not going come tell friend what come do just . . .” the trailed off, looking around as if someone surrounding might be holding up a sign prompting the end of his sentence. Questioning Jensen to keep from micromanaging was like asking anyone rather to protect against breathing because that ten brief minutes. “Just speak to someone.”

“?‘Someone’? Jensen, your allude is that I have no friends. It’s not exactly true, but who perform you imagine ns should speak to to start this whole get-out-and-live thing? an additional grad student who’s simply as hidden in study as ns am? We’re in biomedical engineering. It’s not precisely a flourishing mass of socialites.”

He closed his eyes, staring up at the ceiling before something seemed to happen to him. His eyebrows rose as soon as he looked earlier to me, expect filling his eyes through an irresistible brotherly tenderness. “What about Will?”

I snatched the untouched champagne flute indigenous Dad’s hand and downed it.I didn’t require Jensen come repeat himself. Will certainly Sumner was Jensen’s college best friend, Dad’s previous intern, and the object of every among my teenage fantasies. Whereas i had constantly been the friendly, nerdy kid sister, will certainly was the bad-boy genius v the crooked smile, pierced ears, and also blue eyes that seemed to hypnotize every girl he met.

When i was twelve, will was nineteen, and he came residence with Jensen because that a few days about Christmas. He to be dirty, and—even then—delicious, jamming ~ above his bass in the garage with Jensen and playfully flirting away the holidays with my enlarge sister, Liv. As soon as I to be sixteen, he was a fresh college graduate and lived v us end the summer when he functioned for mine father. The exuded together raw, sexual charisma the I offered my virginity come a fumbling, forgettable boy in my class, trying to relax the ache ns felt just being near Will.

I to be pretty sure my sister had at least kissed him—and will certainly was too old because that me anyway—but behind close up door doors, and also in the secret space that my very own heart, I might admit that will Sumner was the first boy I’d ever wanted come kiss, and the first boy who at some point drove me come slip my hand under the sheets, reasoning of that in the darkness that my own room.

Of his devilish playful smile and the hair the continually dropped over his ideal eye.

Of his smooth, muscled forearms and also tan skin.

Of his lengthy fingers, and even the tiny scar on his chin.

When the boys my period all sound the same, Will’s voice was deep, and quiet. His eye were patient and also knowing. His hand weren’t ever restless and fidgety; they to be usually resting deep in his pockets. He licked his lips once he looked at girls, and he do quiet, i was sure comments around br**sts and also legs and tongues.

I blinked, looking up in ~ Jensen. I wasn’t sixteen anymore. I was twenty-four, and Will was thirty-one. I’d checked out him 4 years before at Jensen’s ill-fated wedding, and his quiet, charismatic smile had only grown an ext intense, an ext maddening. I’d watched, fascinated, as will slipped away into a coatroom v two of mine sister-in-law’s bridesmaids.

“Call him,” Jensen urged now, pulling me from mine memories. “He has a good balance that work and also life. He’s local, he’s a an excellent guy. Simply . . . Obtain out some, okay? He’ll take treatment of you.”

I tried come quell the hum vibrating all follow me my skin as soon as my oldest brother claimed this. I wasn’t sure how I wanted will certainly to take treatment of me: did I desire him to just be mine brother’s friend, helping me find an ext balance? Or go I want to obtain a grown-up look in ~ the object of my filthiest fantasies?

“Hanna,” Dad pressed. “Did girlfriend hear her brother?”

A waiter passed through a tray of full champagne flutes and also I swapped the end the north one because that a full, bubbly glass.

“I heard him. I’ll contact Will.”

Chapter One

One ring. Two.

I quit pacing long enough to pull earlier the curtain and also peek the end the window, frowning up at the sky. It was still dark out, yet I reasoned it was bluer 보다 black and starting to smudge pink and purple along the horizon. Technically: morning.

It was three days ~ Jensen’s lecture and, fittingly, my 3rd attempt to contact Will. But even though I had actually no idea what I would certainly say—what my brother also expected me come say—the an ext I thought around it, the more I realized Jens had actually been right: i was virtually always in ~ the lab, and also when i wasn’t, ns was house sleeping or eating. Selecting to live alone in mine parents’ Manhattan apartment instead of what closer to my peers in Brooklyn and Queens didn’t exactly help my social options. The components of mine refrigerator consisted of the strange vegetable, questionable takeout, and also frozen dinners. My entire life come this allude had revolved approximately finishing school and launching right into the perfect research career. It was sobering to establish how tiny I had outside of that.

Apparently my family members had noticed, and for part reason, Jensen appeared to think the solution to saving me from imminent spinsterdom to be Will.

I was much less confident. Much less.

Our shared background was admittedly scant, and it to be entirely feasible he wouldn’t remember me very well. Ns was the child sister, scenery, a background to his many adventures with Jensen and his quick fling with my sister. And also now ns was calling the to—what? take me out? Play some board games? Teach me how to . . .

I couldn’t even finish the thought.

I discussed hanging up. I questioned climbing ago into bed and telling my brother he could kiss mine ass and also find a brand-new improvement project. But halfway v the 4th ring, and also with the call clenched for this reason tightly in mine hand I’d probably still feeling it tomorrow, will certainly picked up.

“Hello?” His voice was exactly how ns remembered, thick and also rich, but even deeper. “Hello?” that asked again.

“Will?”

He inhaled sharply and I heard a laugh curl v his voice when he stated my nickname: “Ziggy?”

I laughed; of course he’d psychic me the way. Just my family called me the anymore. No one really knew what the surname meant—it to be a the majority of power to give then-two-year-old Eric, nicknaming the brand-new baby sister—but it had actually stuck. “Yeah. It’s Ziggy. Just how did you—?”

“I heard from Jensen yesterday,” he explained. “He called me all around his visit and the linguistic ass-kicking he gave you. He stated you might call.”

“Well, right here I am,” I claimed lamely.

There was a groan and also the whispering rustle that sheets. Ns absolutely walk not try to imagine what level of na**d was on the other end of the line. But the butterflies in mine stomach flew into my throat once I registered he sound tired due to the fact that he’d to be asleep. Okay, so perhaps it wasn’t technically morning yet. . . .

I chanced an additional look outside. “I didn’t wake up you, go I?” i hadn’t also looked at my clock, and now ns was fear to.

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“It’s fine. Mine alarm was around to go off in”—he paused, yawning—“an hour.”

I bit earlier a groan the mortification. “Sorry. I was a little . . . Anxious.”

“No, no, it’s fine. Ns can’t think I forgot you stayed in the city now. Hear you’ve been holed up end at P and S, pipetting in a safety and security hood because that the past three years.”

My stomach flipped slightly at the method his deep voice thrived husky through his playful scolding. “You sound choose you’re ~ above Jensen’s side.”

His tone softened. “He’s just worried about you. Together your large brother, it’s his favorite job.”

“So I’ve heard.” I went back to pacing the length of the room, needing to execute something come contain this concerned energy. “I have to have dubbed sooner . . .”

“So should I.” the shifted, and also seemed come sit up. Ns heard that groan again as he stretched and closed my eyes at the sound. It sound exactly, precisely, and distractingly favor sex.