“But that’s only because I look moderately like her with a wig on and I can imitate voices pretty well.”

“Not everyone can do that.”

“Look moderately flawless?” I joke.

“Imogen,” he says, and I kind of just want him to shut up and keep saying my name over and over again until I get so sick of that name that I want to change it to something else, and then I want him to say that name, and then the next one, and then—“you might not be now, but you’re learning how to be, and someday I know you’re going to be amazing.”

My bottom lip begins to tremble. Starflame, now why did he have to go and say that? Why couldn’t he just laugh at me like Jasper did and tell me how he loved my passion in that tongue-in-cheek way that really wasn’t a compliment at all? His hands begin to loosen from my shoulders the longer I’m quiet, because I’m not sure what to say.

What do you say to something like that?

He opens his mouth again and I am incredibly afraid of what’s about to come out, because I know it’ll only stir up feelings I definitely don’t have about this boy who is secretly in love with Jessica Stone but doesn’t know it. And I really, really don’t want to be the Other Girl in that situation, because I’ve seen Jess’s life—I’ve lived it!—and I’ve seen his devotion to her, and I know where I’ll be at the end of all of this:

On a curb outside of the ball, waiting for a Prince Charming who’ll never come.

So I do the only thing I can think of—

I splash him.

Like, not just one of those pansy splashes, either. I grew up with a brother, so I had to learn to deal some real damage whenever we visited the community pool. I splash Ethan so hard it’s like a tidal wave of pool water coming at him. He sputters, drenched, the gel finally loosening his hair from its meticulous hold.

“You did not just do that,” he says, offended, as he wipes his eyes.

“You talk too much, anyone ever tell you that?”

He scoffs. “Like I’m the only one!”

He proceeds to rake his arm across the surface in revenge. Water gets into my eyes and my nose, and blindly I shove water back at him. But he’s way taller than me and, not surprising, has longer arms, so he has full advantage in pool warfare. I try the doggie-paddle maneuver, but he comes back with a fan of water that drenches me, and the tides turn and I’m on the losing end of this battle, like the Prospero pitted against a fleet of Noxian horde ships. I try in vain just to stay above the surface.

But then he does the unthinkable.

He puts his massive hand on my head—

And pushes me under.

I barely make a sound before he dunks me, and when I come up for air, gasping and blinking salty water out of my eyes, he’s already starting for the stairs. “I win,” he says over his shoulder. “Now get out before someone calls Security—”

“Never surrender!” I cry, and take off after him—which in the water, you know, is basically slow-mo running in real time. I grab him around the middle and use the only move that ever works on Milo—I knock his legs out from under him and I suplex his body into the deep end.

Turns out he’s a lot heavier than I thought, especially for a beanpole. And his torso is very solid. And are those abs I feel?

Oh sweet baby Daleks, please don’t tell me Ethan actually has a nice bod.

That would just be too much.

He pries my arms from around his waist and comes up for air first. I’m right behind him, coughing the water out of my lungs.

“What’re you trying to do, drown me?” he sputters as he paddles to the edge of the pool.

I wipe the water off my face, half coughing and half laughing, and grab on beside him. “Add that to my resume. World-champion splasher. Another useless talent of Imogen Ada Lovelace.”

“You flipped me back!”

“Is your pride wounded?”

“A little,” he admits.

He could make for the stairs again, but instead he lingers near me, and I think we both realize at the same time how close we actually are, and there are flecks of gold in his eyes I haven’t seen before and that is so freaking cliché I kind of adore it. Not him. But his eyes. I have to remind myself that I can’t like him, but it’s so hard when a droplet of water beads at the end of a lock of raven hair in front of his face, and falls on his cheek, and rolls down his cheek slowly, languidly, like I want to run my finger down his jawline. It’s like there’s no one else but us in the world, and his eyes navigate steadily to my lips.

I should’ve exfoliated them earlier. A sugar scrub or something. I should’ve packed a cute bathing suit instead of jumping in wearing Jess’s dress. I should’ve done something—



It can’t be.

But then he migrates closer, closing the gap between us—the snippy remarks and the snark and the circumstances—until the heat from his skin burns against mine without even touching me, and the cool blue of the pool reflects across our faces like ripples in the ocean, and I think I might be—

I think this is—

“Ethan,” I whisper, and it’s my voice—my real voice—that breaks the spell.

He jerks back as if he’s forgotten that I’m me. Then his look morphs into mortification. Because it is me. And he wants Jess.

“I should, ah…I should get out of the pool. I—I’m sorry.”

“Oh, of course,” I murmur, trying to keep my voice steady.

“It’s not you. It’s just, I’m only here to keep a lookout for you for Jessica, so you don’t r—” But then he stops himself. “And you seem fine at the moment. You’re not masquerading as her. So.”

He pushes off from the edge and swims toward the shallow end.

I don’t say anything until he’s halfway to the stairs. He stands, his wet button-down clinging to the cordlike muscles of his back. Dammit, he does have a nice body. And it kind of just makes me angrier. I don’t know why.

“So that’s the only reason you came out here?” I ask. “For Jessica?”

“That’s not—”

“To make sure I’m not ruining her career? Was that what you were going to say?”

His lips press into a thin line. He can’t meet my gaze.

Oh, I’m right.

I scoff. Of course I’m right. Why would he ever want to just be nice to me? “Don’t worry Ethan, I won’t screw up your precious Jessica Stone’s career.”

“You think that’s all I care about?” he asks, clenching his fists.

“Well, the writing’s on the wall, isn’t it?”

“You don’t know the first thing about Jessica—or me—and here you are coming in to our lives thinking you know everything. Thinking that you can just mess with Jess’s life—play in it like it’s this funhouse ride. It’s not, Imogen. Jess’s life is real.”

I purse my lips. “If it’s so important, then why let me mess in it to begin with?”

“Because Jess needs to—” But then he stops himself, and looks away. “She just needed this.”

“So I’m important enough to pretend to be Jessica, but I’m not important enough to know the real reason why,” I infer, and he doesn’t correct me.

He just folds his arms over his chest, looking more uncomfortable by the moment. Finally, he says, “You should get out before security comes by.”

“You mean before I can screw up Jess’s career?” I mock.

“It’s not like you can screw up your own,” he snaps cattily, but then realizes what he said. “I didn’t mean it that way. I just meant—”

Oh no, he’s said enough already. I push myself up the side and out of the pool. I grab the keycard and the wig I’d stashed behind the potted plant. “No, I get it. Don’t worry, Ethan,” I snap as I leave, and he just stands there helplessly. “I won’t screw up.”

I clutch the wig to my stomach as I make my way through the lobby, where con-goers mingle with friends, some with their costumes slowly melting off them, others in pajamas. No one glances at me, no one looks twice, even though I’m sopping wet and my dress leaves a liquid trail behind me. The people who do notice me probably just see a mess of a girl, waterlogged, with runny makeup and pink hair stuck up in a spiky crown around her head.

Don’t cry, I think, unable to get Ethan’s words out of my head. Why did they make me so angry?

I think I’m angrier at myself more than anything. Because I actually thought—

I let myself think—

Because he’s so freaking insufferable, I actually—

I elbow my way through the crowds, breathing deeply so I don’t outright cry, and reach the elevators. There is a difference between loving someone and stanning someone. I can stan Darien Freeman and Vance Reigns and Chris Pine and Cole Sprouse all I want, because at the end of the day I know it’s a one-sided affair. Yeah, I freak out over movie stars. I think they’re hot or cute or SUPER ADORABLE I MEAN COME ON.

But loving someone? That’s expecting them to love you back. I don’t expect love at first sight. That heart-crushing, soul-melting, foot-lifting sort of fairy-tale romance that The Princess Bride sells you. But liking would be nice. A nice warm like that assures you that you won’t be left out on the curb during a fairy-tale ball night without a Prince Charming or a pumpkin carriage.