I stare back, because two can play this game. On the surface he's impermeable, except a scar above his left brow tells the truth . . . he's human. His shirt outlines muscles you can get only from manual labor or working out regularly.

When my eyes meet his gaze as we're sitting here staring at each other, time stops. Those eyes are piercing mine, and I can swear at this moment he senses the real me. The one without the attitude, without the facade. Just Brittany.

"What would it take for you to go out with me?" he asks.

"You're not serious."

"Do I look like I'm jokin'?"

Mrs. Peterson wanders by us, saving me from answering. "I'm keeping my eyes on you two. Alex, we missed you last week. What happened?"

"I kinda fell onto a knife."

She shakes her head in disbelief, then moves away to harass other partners.

I look at Alex, wide-eyed. "A knife? You're kidding, right?"

"Nope. I was cuttin' a tomato, and wouldn't ya know the thing flung up and sliced my shoulder open. The doc stapled me back together. Wanna see?" he asks as he starts pulling up his sleeve.

I slap a hand over my eyes. "Alex, don't gross me out. And I don't believe for one second a knife flung out of your hand. You were in a knife fight."

"You never answered my question," he says, not admitting or denying my theory about his wound. "What would it take for you to go out with me?"

"Nothing. I wouldn't go out with you."

"I bet if we make out you'll change your mind."

"As if that'll ever happen."

"Your loss." Alex stretches his long legs in front of him, his chem book resting in his lap. He looks at me with chocolate brown eyes that are so intense I swear they could hypnotize someone. "You ready?" he asks.

For a nanosecond, as I'm staring into those dark eyes, I wonder what it would be like to kiss Alex. My gaze drops to his lips. For less than a nanosecond, I can almost feel them coming closer. Would his lips be hard on mine, or soft? Is he a slow kisser, or hungry and fast like his personality?

"For what?" I whisper as I lean closer.

"The project," he says. "Hand warmers. Peterson's class. Chemistry."

I shake my head, clearing all ridiculous thoughts from my overactive teenage mind. I must be sleep-deprived. "Yeah, hand warmers." I open my chem book.

"Brittany?"

"What?" I say, staring blindly at the words on the page. I have no clue what I'm reading because I'm too embarrassed to concentrate.

"You were lookin' at me like you wanted to kiss me."

I force a laugh. "Yeah, right," I say sarcastically.

"Nobody's watchin' if you want to, you know, try it. Not to brag, but I'm somewhat of an expert."

He gives me a lazy smile, one that was probably created to melt girls' hearts all over the globe.

"Alex, you're not my type." I need to tell him something to stop him from looking at me like he's planning to do things to me I've only heard about.

"You only like white guys?"

"Stop that," I say through gritted teeth.

"What?" he says, getting all serious. "It's the truth, ain't it?"

Mrs. Peterson appears in front of us. "How's that outline coming along?" she asks.

I put on a fake smile. "Peachy." I pull out the research I did at home and get down to business while Mrs. Peterson watches. "I did some research on the hand warmers last night. We need to dissolve sixty grams of sodium acetate and one hundred millimeters of water at seventy degrees."

"Wrong," Alex says.

I look up and realize Mrs. Peterson is gone. "Excuse me?"

Alex folds his arms across his chest. "You're wrong."

"I don't think so."

"You think you've never been wrong before?"

He says it as if I'm a ditzy blond bimbo, which sets my blood to way past boiling. "Sure I have," I say. I make my voice sound high and breathless, like a Southern debutante. "Why, just last week I bought Bobbi Brown Sandwash Petal lip gloss when the Pink Blossom color would have looked so much better with my complexion. Needless to say the purchase was a total disaster," I say. He expected to hear something like that come out of my mouth. I wonder if he believes it, or from my tone realizes I'm being sarcastic.

"I'll bet," he says.

"Haven't you ever been wrong before?" I ask him.

"Absolutely," he says. "Last week, when I robbed that bank over by the Walgreens, I told the teller to hand over all the fifties he had in the till. What I really should have asked for was the twenties 'cause there were way more twenties than fifties."

Okay, so he did get that I was putting on an act. And gave it right back to me with his own ridiculous scenario, which is actually unsettling because it makes us similar in some twisted way. I put a hand on my chest and gasp, playing along. "What a disaster."

"So I guess we can both be wrong."

I stick my chin in the air and declare stubbornly, "Well, I'm not wrong about chemistry. Unlike you, I take this class seriously."

"Let's have a bet, then. If I'm right, you kiss me," he says.

"And if I'm right?"

"Name it."

It's like taking candy from a baby. Mr. Macho Guy's ego is about to be taken down a notch, and I'm all too happy to be the one to do it. "If I win you take me and the class project seriously," I tell him. "No teasing me, no making ridiculous comments."

"Deal. I'd feel terrible if I didn't tell you I have a photographic memory."

"Alex, I'd feel terrible if I didn't tell you I copied the info straight from the book." I look at the research I'd done, then flip open to the corresponding page in my chem book. "Without looking, what does it need to be cooled at?" I ask.

Alex is a guy who thrives on challenges. But this time the tough guy is going to lose. He closes his own book and stares at me, his jaw set. "Twenty degrees. And it needs to be dissolved at one hundred degrees, not seventy," he answers confidently.

I scan the page, then my notes. Then back at the page again. I can't be wrong. Which page did I-- "Oh, yeah. One hundred degrees." I look up at him in complete shock. "You're right."

"You gonna kiss me now, or later?"

"Right now," I say, which I can tell shocks him because his hands go still. At home, my life is dictated by my mom and dad. At school, it's different. I need to keep it that way, because if I have no control in every aspect of my life I might as well be a mannequin.

"Really?" he asks.

"Yeah." I take one of his hands in mine. I'd never be this bold if we had an audience, and am thankful for the privacy of the nonfiction titles surrounding us. His breathing slows as I sit up on my knees and lean into him. I'm ignoring the fact that his fingers are long and rough and that I've never actually touched him before. I'm nervous. I shouldn't be, though. I'm the one in control this time.

I can feel him restraining himself. He's letting me make the move, which is a good thing. I'm afraid of what this boy would do if he let loose.

I place his hand against my cheek so it cups my face and I hear him groan. I want to smile because his reaction proves I have the power.

He's unmoving as our eyes meet.

Time stops again.

Then I turn my head into his hand and kiss the inside of his palm.

"There, I kissed you," I say, giving him back his hand and ending the game.

Mr. Latino with the big ego got bested by a ditzy, blond bimbo.

CHAPTER 14 Alex

"You call that a kiss?"

"Yep."

Okay, so I'm in shock the girl put my hand on her creamy cheek. Damn, you'd think I was on drugs by the way my body reacted.

She had me totally under her spell a minute ago. Then the pretty witch turned my game around so she was the one with the upper hand. She surprised me, that's for sure. I laugh, deliberately calling attention to us because I know it's exactly what she doesn't want.

"Shh," Brittany says, hitting me on the shoulder to shut me up. When I laugh louder, she whacks my arm with the heavy chem book.

My bad arm.

I wince. "Ow!" The cut on my biceps feels like a million little bees are stinging it. Cabron me dolio!

She bites her Bobbi Brown Sandwash Petal'd frosted bottom lip, which in my opinion looks fine on her. Though I wouldn't mind seeing her in the Pink Blossom color, too.

"Did I hurt you?" she asks.

"Yes," I say through gritted teeth as I concentrate on her lip gloss instead of the pain.

"Good."

I lift my sleeve to examine my wound, which now (thanks to my chem partner) has blood trickling from one of the staples the doc at the free clinic put in it after the fight at the park with the Satin Hoods. Brittany's got a pretty good whack for someone who probably weighs a buck ten soaking wet.

She sucks in her breath and scoots away. "Oh my God! I didn't mean to hurt you, Alex. Really, I didn't. When you threatened to show me the scar, you lifted your left sleeve."

"I wasn't really gonna show you," I say. "I was fuckin' with you. It's okay," I tell her. Geez, you'd think the girl never saw red blood before. Then again, her blood probably runs blue.

"No, it's not okay," she insists while shaking her head. "Your stitches are bleeding."

"They're staples," I correct her, trying to lighten the mood. The girl is even whiter than she usually is. And she's breathing heavy, almost panting. If she passes out, I swear I'm losing the bet with Lucky. If she can't handle a little streak of my blood, how's she gonna handle having sex with me? Unless we're not naked, so she doesn't have to see my various scars. Or if it's dark, then she can pretend I'm someone white and rich. Fuck that, I want the lights on ... I want to feel all of her against me and want her to know it's me she's with and not some other culero.

"Alex, are you okay?" Brittany asks, looking totally concerned.

Should I tell her I was spacing out while thinking about us having sex?

Mrs. P. walks up the aisle with a stern look on her face. "This is a library, you two. Keep it down." But then she notices the small line of blood snaking down my arm and staining my sleeve. "Brittany, help him to the nurse. Alex, next time come to school with that thing bandaged."

"Don't I get sympathy, Mrs. P.? I'm bleedin' to death."

"Do something to help mankind or the planet, Alex. Then you'll, get my sympathy. People who get into knife fights don't earn anything from me except disgust. Now go get cleaned up."

Brittany lifts my books off my lap and says in a shaky voice, "Come on."

"I can hold the books," I tell her as I follow her out of the library. I'm pressing my sleeve against the wound, hoping to stop more blood from leaking out.

She's walking ahead of me. If I tell her I need help walking because I feel faint, will she believe me and come to my rescue? Maybe I should stumble . . . although knowing her she wouldn't care.

Right before we reach the nurse's office, she turns around. Her hands are shaking. "I'm so sorry, Alex. I di--didn't m--mean--"

She's freaking out. If she cries, I won't know what to do. I'm not used to crying chicks. I don't think Carmen cried once during our entire relationship. In fact, I'm not sure Carmen has tear ducts. That turned me on, because emotional chicks scare me.

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