“Look,” I say, taking out my cell phone to call Sarah again, “I didn’t give you guys that money for beer, and you know it. If there really is someone passed out, we need to find them right away and make sure they’re all right—”

“Oh, definitely,” Jamie says, looking worried. “But they can’t be passed out from drinking. We only bought two six-packs—”

“Well, the basketball team bought a bottle of vodka,” Gavin admits sheepishly.

“Gavin!” Jamie cries.

I feel as if I really have been shot, only this time in the head, not the spine, and with a real bullet. That’s the size of the migraine blooming behind my left eyeball. “What?” I say.

“Well, it’s not like I could stop ’em.” Gavin’s voice goes up an octave. “Have you seen how big they are? That one Russian kid, Magnus, is nearly seven feet tall. What was I going to say, ‘nyetski on the vodkaski’?”

Jamie thinks about this. “Wouldn’t it be ‘nyet’? And ‘vodka’? I think those are Russian words.”

“Fantastic,” I say, ignoring them as I press redial and call Sarah’s number again. “If any of those guys is the one who’s passed out, we’re not even going to be able to lift him onto a gurney. So where’s the basketball team right now?”

Gavin looks excited. He takes something from a pocket of his coveralls and goes to one of the casement windows. In the glow from the streetlamps outside, I see that he’s unfolding a floor plan of the building. It’s covered in mysterious notations made with red marker, presumably a plan for tonight’s battle. My headache stabs me even harder. I should be home having Chinese takeout and watching Freaky Eaters with my boyfriend, our Sunday-night tradition, although for some reason Cooper fails to see the brilliance of Freaky Eaters, preferring to watch 60 Minutes, or as I like to call it, “The Show That Is Never About Freaky Eaters.”

“We’ll probably need to split up to find them,” Gavin says, lifting his beer and taking a swift sip before pointing at a location on the floor plan. “We set up a bunker in the library because we can hear anybody coming up the stairs from the lobby or taking the service elevator. We estimate Team Paint Crew is holing up somewhere on the first floor, most likely the cafeteria. But they could be in the basement, possibly the game room. My idea is, we get down there, then take out all of them at once, and win the whole game—”

“Wait,” Jamie says. “Did you hear that?”

“I didn’t hear anything,” Gavin says. “So here’s the plan. Jamie, you go down the back stairwell to the caf. Heather, you go down the front stairwell and see if anyone is hiding out in the basement.”

“You’ve been breathing too many chemicals in the darkroom at your summer film classes,” I say. Sarah’s phone has gone to voice mail again. Frustrated, I hang up without leaving another message. “And anyway, I’m not playing.”

“Heather, Heather, Heather,” Gavin says, chidingly. “Film is all digital now, no one uses darkrooms or chemicals. And you most certainly are playing. We killed you, so you’re our prisoner. You have to do what we say.”

“Seriously,” Jamie says. “Didn’t you guys hear that?”

“If you killed me, that means I’m dead,” I say. “So I shouldn’t have to play.”

“Those aren’t the rules,” Gavin says. “The way we’ll take them is, we go in through the dining office, then hide behind the salad bar—”

“McGoren,” a deep, masculine voice says from the darkness of the hallway.

Gavin looks up.

“Nobody shoots Heather,” my fiancé, Cooper, emerges from the shadows to say, “and gets away with it.”

Then he fires.

Chapter 2

Once in a While
Once in a while you regret the road not taken
Start giving up on the plans you made
Once in a while you feel so forsaken
Wondering why so many took, not gave
Once in a while you ask, how could this happen?
How did I end up in these shoes?
But once in a while you meet a special someone
Someone who chose the same path as you
And suddenly it stops feeling so lonely
Out on that road that you just had to choose
And that’s when you know it all was worth it
Because once in a while dreams do come true

“Once in a While”
Written by Heather Wells
“I told you I heard something,” Jamie says, laughing at Gavin’s stupefied expression as he stares down at the bright green paint splotch on the front of his white coveralls.

“Uncool, man,” Gavin says forlornly. “You aren’t even on an official team.”

“Where’d you get that paintball gun?” I ask as Cooper comes over to wrap an arm around my neck.

“A nice young man at the front desk handed it to me when I asked where you were,” he says. “He told me I was going to need it in order to defend myself.”

I realize belatedly that Mark, the resident assistant working at the front desk, was calling out to me as I raced up the stairs. I’d been in too much of a hurry to listen.

“What are you doing here?” I ask Cooper as he kisses the top of my head. “I told you I’d be right back.”

“Yes, that’s what you say every time you get dragged over here on a weekend,” Cooper says drily. “Then it’s three hours before I see you again. I figured this time I’d hurry things along. You don’t make enough money at this job to be at their beck and call twenty-four hours a day, Heather.”

“Don’t I know it,” I say. My annual salary as an assistant resident hall director actually puts me at the U.S. poverty level, after the IRS and NYS take their cuts. Fortunately, New York City College’s health care and benefits package is excellent, and I pay zero rent thanks to my second job doing data entry for my landlord, who’s untwined his arm from around my neck and is reloading his paint gun.

I’m not going to lie: though I disapprove of gunplay in residence halls, the effect is undeniably sexy. Of course, Cooper had to familiarize himself with firearms in order to pass the New York State Private Investigator Exam. He doesn’t actually own a gun, however, and has assured me that in real life being a private detective is nothing like it is on TV shows and movies. When he isn’t home looking stuff up online, he mostly sits around in his car taking photos of people who are cheating on their spouses.

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