Effortless With You series
by Lizzy Charles
Published by: Swoon Romance
Genres: Contemporary, Romance,
Published by: Swoon Romance
Genres: Contemporary, Romance,
Effortless With You
School is out and Lucy is ready for the perfect summer: lazy days at the pool, invitations to the most exclusive parties, and romantic dates with her hot new boyfriend. That is, until she lands in trouble one too many times and her parents issue the ultimate punishment: a summer job. Suddenly, the summer can’t end fast enough.
To make matters worse, the job is painting houses with Justin, the most popular, egotistical guy in school. Spending all summer with Justin might be other girls’ dreams, but definitely not Lucy’s. After all, Justin is cocky, annoying, and a jerk. So what if he’s the most beautiful jerk Lucy’s ever seen? Or that his grin makes her forget she’s mad at the world? Or that maybe, just maybe, there’s more to Justin than Lucy realizes. Only one thing is certain: it won’t be the summer she wanted, but it might be exactly the one she needs
Popularity isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Justin Marshall knows this better than most. For the captain of the basketball team, small business owner, and son of Minnesota’s next governor, life can get pretty overwhelming. But Justin can handle anything as long as he has Lucy, the girl who fell for the man he’s trying to be.
But for Justin and Lucy, finding time together proves challenging. Stolen kisses and whispered promises just aren’t enough. That is, until scandalous photos of the couple are leaked to a press intent on creating a juicy scandal during Justin’s dad’s gubernatorial campaign. And when Lucy becomes fair play for the tabloids and gossip pages, Justin does the only thing he can to protect her: he breaks her heart.
For Lucy, junior year is everything she hoped it would be: new friends, second chances, and a boyfriend she can’t stop kissing. That is, until the boy she’s pretty sure she loves chooses the life his family wants for him, over her.
Now it’s up to Lucy to teach him what it really means to have everything. Because for Justin, being who everyone needs him to be just might cost him the one person he can’t live without
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“Now, Lucy.” She sounds like an elementary-school teacher. “When Justin comes over, I want you to take some photos of us. Pretend you’re me, grabbing some lifestyle moments.” She waits for me to nod before continuing. “I’ll wink at you when I think the shots are right and what I’m looking for. Once you take the pictures, you can go find your Zach and have a nice time.” She pats me on my back before she turns back to the bartender. I feel like a dog. I ignore the pat.
Instead I focus on Justin. I don’t want to see him even more than I don’t want to see Zach. Zach had forgotten but Justin was knowingly cruel. What if he mentions our conversation to Marissa? She’ll be furious I didn’t tell her we talked. I turn the camera back and forth in my hand, playing with the dials. There’s no way he’ll pass up the chance to share.
“Justin, come over here,” Marissa calls. I take a slow, deep breath. “I’ve got something to ask you.” Marissa’s hair stings my cheek as she flips it over her shoulder. She giggles. Her game is on.
“Marissa.” Justin sounds unenthused but she doesn’t seem to notice. Marissa leans in and gives him a long hug. Justin pats her back a bit before distancing himself. He asks the bartender for a bottle of water before turning his attention back to Marissa. “What’s up?”
“What do you think of new uniforms for the basketball team? I’ve got an in with Midwest Jersey through my uncle and he told me he has a great new design you’d love.” She lightly brushes his arm. When he looks down at his arm, she kicks her leg back, jamming me in the calf. Photo time. My calf throbs where her stiletto jabbed me. That’ll bruise.
I take a deep breath. I can’t believe I have to face Justin so soon. Time to harness my loathing energy and turn it into fake energy. Spinning around, I pop the camera up to my face and step out in front of them. Justin looks too perfect in a white Batman shirt and dark jeans, hair curling in the humidity. But his teeth do glow stupidly in the black lights. I’ll focus on that.
“Hi, guys.” I say in the most chipper voice I can find. Justin locks eyes with me. I immediately shift my focus to the led screen. “Do you mind if I take some photos while you talk? It’s for a summer photography project.”
“Oh, sure. Whatever.” Marissa rolls her eyes at Justin. Great, now I'm even lamer. She turns back to him, talking more about new basketball jerseys. Justin lifts his right eyebrow at me. He shrugs, turning back to Marissa as she demands his attention. He seems indifferent.
He doesn’t even care about this afternoon. No remorse.
I click away. Marissa's taught me to stand on my tiptoes to get a downward angle so she doesn’t end up with a double chin. Whenever Marissa winks, I push the button. She leans in, whispering something in his ear. He pulls back gently, laughing. Another wink and I shoot as she turns her body, making it look like Justin is cornering her into the bar. She leans in again briefly for the photo. I have to hand it to Marissa; she's good.
Marissa looks back at me. “So, are you done yet? We’re having a real conversation here.”
“Yup. Thanks for helping me out.”
She waves me off in response. Further proof of my loser status. I cringe. Marissa can be a bit clueless how she treats me sometimes. Once she gets her mind set, she’ll always play the game to come out on top. I should expect it by now. I know she doesn’t mean to make me feel like dirt. But I can handle it. It’s way better than being called a Dumpster slut. Marissa’s easy to handle compared to my past.
Marissa’s enormous camera stretches my purse. Disappearing into the crowd, I'm relieved yet oddly unsatisfied with my encounter with Justin. I have more to say to him.
No, I have more to yell at him.
The intensity of my emotions surprises and scares me. I'm usually able to keep my thoughts from turning into words, screening them from the real world. No one breeches this wall except Mom and, occasionally, Dad. Proof Justin’s an invasive nightmare.
Everyone else bows at his feet. I just want to stomp on them.
As I push my way through the crowd, ironically, I become more aware I’m alone. I can’t remember the last time I walked around a party without Marissa at my side. Free, I look around, deciding what to do.
Too bad I don’t want to do anything at all.
Scanning the crowd, I spot Zach playing volleyball in the pool. That eliminates that activity. There is a bench slightly off the dance floor. I can pull off sitting there, a dance break.
I pull out the camera, viewing the shots. Marissa’s practice posing sessions have really paid off. It looks like Justin is hitting on Marissa. One shot even looks like Justin was leaning in for a kiss, pinning Marissa against the bar.
She is an evil genius.
I scan through, deleting a few of the unflattering jaw shots of Marissa. One photo stops me. Marissa stares at Justin, her hand on his shoulder and another playing with her hair. Justin doesn’t notice her, his green eyes focus on the camera. Were they pleading? I delete it. Weird camera angle.
“How’d they turn out?” I jerk. That voice has become too familiar.
“Really, come back for more?” I gaze up, determined to face him.
Justin smiles. How can this be fun for him? My pulse quickens. I want to punch him.
He sits next to me, snatching Marissa’s camera out of my hand and scrolling through the photos. I watch his thumb, ready to pounce if it nears the delete button. Marissa would kill me.
“Wow. These are pretty incriminating. Awesome job.” He hands the camera back.
I shrug. “Thanks.”
“Does she realize there’s no chance?”
“That may only encourage her.” No point in trying to cover for Marissa. She’d say the same thing.
“That’s what I thought.” He leans back, putting his arms behind his head. His biceps flex and I look away. I don’t need my hormones taking over.
“What?” he asks.
“You tell me.”
He rolls his eyes. “Listen. I’m sorry. You were right. I was a jerk.” Momentarily, I'm dazed. His apology doesn’t seem real. I lift my eyebrow; there has to be more.
“But I’m not sorry about Zach.” He turns to me. “Speaking of which…” Justin nods toward the crowd. Zach is walking toward us.
“Yo, Zach. How’d that game of disc turn out?”
“Tater got schooled!” Zach sits down between us, soaking wet. The side of my dress absorbs the water off his body. He puts his arm around me. My stomach makes a little flip.
He still likes me?
Zach turns to me. “Sorry again about dinner tonight. Work got busy and I lost a bet to Tater. I was so pissed that I completely blanked.” He nudges me and flashes his corner smile. “They say I’ve got a tendency to get overheated.”
I’ve heard that. Last season he threw all the Lacrosse sticks across the field after they lost to Jefferson Academy.
“So,” Zach gives my shoulder a squeeze, “I calmed down with a game of disc.”
He leans in, kissing me on the cheek. “Forgive me?” My heart flutters as my emotions swing on a pendulum. His story could totally be legit, and he fessed up to blanking. The way his hand is wrapped around my waist just feels right. I’m not ready to let that go over a messed up date.
“Yeah, of course. No big deal.” I shrug, wanting to appear like the cool, relaxed, girlfriend.
Justin throws up his hands behind Zach, defeated.
Zach looks back at him. “What, man?” his voice darkens.
“Nothing, really.” Justin stands up, wisely removing himself. “I just remembered I promised Jennifer I’d dance tonight.” He nods toward the dance floor where Jennifer stands eyeing him. “I might as well get it over with.” He looks down at me. “See ya later.”
Lizzy Charles lives in the Twin Cities and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota. When she isn’t raising her three children or caring for premature and sick babies as a neonatal intensive care nurse, she’s seeking refuge with her laptop, sparkling water, and dark chocolate. She married her high school sweetheart, a swoon-worthy musician, so it’s no surprise she’s fallen in love with writing contemporary YA romance novels.