Maggie slapped a five dollar bill onto the cheap cardboard table. “Five more darts,” she told the vendor.
He complied with a mocking smile like a dealer looking at a gambler who’d just placed all his bets. She couldn’t really blame him, though. It had been nearly three hours since Maggie had arrived at the town carnival and she’d spent most her time and money at the dart booth. It was the prizes dangling from the canopy top that caught her eye. Pink stuffed bunnies, fluffy and soft with long droopy ears. Stuffed animals were not her thing—she was sixteen after all—too old for that stuff. But those particular bunnies struck a chord of nostalgia in her. They reminded Maggie of her favorite childhood toy, a furry rabbit that had somehow been lost during the shuffle of her parents’ divorce. Upon seeing the dangling bunnies she’d immediately decided she had to have one. The game itself seemed simple enough; pop three balloons in the center and get a prize. Unfortunately, it was proving to be more difficult and not only was she down to her last bit of cash, but there was only one bunny left in the assortment of stuffed animals.
Curling her fingers around one of the darts, she exhaled a determined breath, aimed, and thrust it towards one of the center balloons. The dart bounced off the balloon and tumbled to the ground.
Maggie growled. “What the hell are those balloons made of, plastic?”
“Just your average balloons, ma’am.”
She bit her lip in concentration and tried again. The dart landed on corkboard, inches shy of a balloon. Unaware that she’d picked up an audience, Maggie reached for another dart, cursing profanities to it under her breath. Steadying her arm, she tossed it gently towards her target area. As if the dart had a will of its own, it sailed directly into the ground beneath the balloons.
A husky sound of laughter floated behind her. Maggie whirled around in irritation, her forehead knotted into a frown. She’d meant to say something along the likes of buzz off but her voice caught in her throat.
Colton Andrews, the heartthrob of her high school and big brother to her best friend was looking at her with curious amusement. His green-emerald gaze caught and held hers. “You’re doing it all wrong, Mags.”
She choked back an angry laugh. “Obviously. I’ve been here for hours and have yet to pop one damn balloon.”
His smile was taunting, provoking. “You do know you’re supposed to throw it with the pointy end first, right?”
She wrinkled her nose at him before switching her concentration back to the game. It took some effort as Colton and his perfectly blonde, perfectly tan and perfectly good looks drew up next to her.
“Go away,” she said, reaching for her next dart.
“No way, this is too fun to watch.”
“Where are your idiotic friends? I’m sure you have other people to pester.”
He folded his arms across his broad chest, a cocky grin pasted to his face. “They’ll be here in a few minutes and there’s no one else I’d rather irritate.”
Rolling her eyes, Maggie slipped the dart between her fingers and sent it airborne.
“Wow, you’re really bad,” Colton mused as it bounced off the wall.
She ignored him and tossed the last dart with an angry hurl. Like all the others, it eventually fell to the ground.
Frustrated beyond measure, Maggie reached into her pocket only to remember she was out of cash.
As if on cue, Colton’s posse of friends and other classmates circled around them. Vanessa, a leggy brunette with artfully skilled makeup slipped into the space between Maggie and Colton. She gave Maggie a brief once-over, dismissed her quickly and turned her attention to Colton.
With a demure smile aimed at him she said,” Aren’t you going to win me something, Colt?”
He shrugged. “Sure.” Then he glanced at Maggie with an arch of a brow. “I’ll show you how it’s done, Mags.”
Her face twisted with annoyance. “I’ll bet you don’t.”
Colton’s green eyes glittered at the challenge. Fishing his wallet from his jeans, he asked the vendor, “How many balloons to win?”
“I’ll take three darts then.”
Maggie stifled a snort. Yeah, so he was probably better than her at the stupid game, but there was no reason for him to be so arrogant to think he wouldn’t miss at least one.
He shot her one of his dazzling smiles before throwing the darts in a steady concession. And in a steady concession three balloons popped.
“Pick your prize, sir,” said the vendor.
His gaze still fully focused on Maggie, Colton signaled to Vanessa. “It’s for her.”
Maggie snagged her bottom lip, sending an anxious glance to the last bunny.
Vanessa—who did not like having to fight for Colton’s attention—saw it and garnered a wicked smirk. “I’ll take…the pink bunny thing.”
Maggie grit her teeth as the vendor retrieved the stuffed animal and placed it in Vanessa’s hands.
Colton for his part was oblivious. “It’s all about the way you turn your wrist,” he told her. “You were curving it the wrong way, Mags. I can show you—” He paused noticing Maggie’s frown.
All her frustration suddenly centered on him. “You big jerk!”
His eyes widened in confusion at her anger. But before he could respond Maggie stormed away.
“It was the bunny,” she heard the vendor say. “She wanted that bunny.”
That night Maggie’s best friend Kate called.
“Colt told me what happened at the carnival. Sorry I missed it,” she laughed.
“It’s not funny.”
“Are you still mad? Come on, Maggie, you can’t stay mad at my brother forever. The whole thing is silly.”
“Oh, yes I can stay mad,” she argued. “I intend to.”
Kate sighed over the phone. “I hope you don’t mean that. I have to live with the guy and he’s being super grumpy right now. It’s weird but I get the feeling he doesn’t like it that you’re upset with him.”
Maggie furrowed her brow. “Why? What does he care?”
There was a distinct pause before Kate answered. “Have you ever considered maybe he does care?”
Maggie couldn’t deny the hitch to her heartbeat as she considered that. Still, she shook her head. “Not likely and it wouldn’t matter anyhow, I’m too mad at him.”
“We’ll see. I’ve got to go, see you at school tomorrow.”
Maggie said goodbye, not enjoying the thought of seeing Colton in the morning. It was a big school, though; hopefully she’d be able to avoid him.
Slamming her locker shut, Maggie rushed down the hallway to her first class. Normally her and Kate grabbed breakfast together in the cafeteria, but Kate had been mysteriously absent this morning and Maggie was running behind from waiting on her to show. Rounding the corner, she entered the classroom only to come to an abrupt halt when she caught sight of her seat.
“Appears as though the Easter Bunny dropped by for you, Maggie,” said the teacher.
There in her designated seat was a very large and very pink stuffed bunny. Surprised, flattered, and a little embarrassed, Maggie lifted up the bunny and slid into her seat, her anger for Colton melting away at a vast rate.
When the bell for next period rang, Maggie put the bunny in her locker and kept a vigil eye out for Colton. She wanted to tell him thanks. She was pondering the exact words she’d say when she walked into her next class only to find another stuffed bunny in her seat. This one was even larger than the other with a splash of purple mixed into the pink fur color.
Unable to keep from grinning, she settled the bunny at the floor next to her desk and tried to concentrate on the class—an impossible thing to do when Colton’s green eyes kept coming to the forefront of her mind.
Maggie had seven classes total in a school day and there was a stuffed bunny in each of them. Some were large, some were small, all were soft and pink. And all day Colton had managed to escape her, along with Kate, who Maggie suspected had helped him.
Maggie was headed to the parking lot, planning to drive over to their house when she noticed Colton’s long form leaning up against her car.
There was a breath of silence between them as she approached him.
“Hi,” she said.
“I got the bunnies. Thanks. It was…really sweet what you did.”
He lifted up from the car. “The day’s not over yet. Got one more surprise left.”
“Oh, Colt, I don’t have room left in my locker for anymore bunnies.”
A smile lurked in the corner of his mouth. “This is something else.” With that, he started walking back towards school, headed in the direction of the gym.
“What are we doing?” she asked.
He replied over his shoulder. “You’ll see.”
Mutely, Maggie followed him inside the gym. The large building was empty all but for a janitor. Colton led her to the side of the building where there was a mock setup of the dart booth form the carnival.
Maggie’s gaze slid over the balloons and the darts and finally to Colton. “You did all this for me? Why?”
“You’re a straight A student, Mags, I think you can do the math.”
A thrill of emotion went through her. She blushed, looking away from him. “So what are you playing for? I already have all the bunnies I could possibly want.”
“Oh, I’m not playing for toys.” He reached for a dart. “This is for something far more fun.”
“And what would that be?”
This time when she met his eyes, they were electric green. “A date.”
Maggie swallowed. “A date?”
She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning. “It hardly seems fair. You’re so good at this whole dart business.”
“Alright, then, you state the rules.”
Maggie thought about it. “Five balloons. Five chances.”
“And if I do it, you’ll go out with me?”
“Five, huh? I think I can manage that.”
Maggie watched as Colt gathered up his focus and sent the darts on their way. There were four balloon pops. But the fifth never occurred. He missed.
“Damn,” he muttered, swiping a hand through his messy blonde hair.
Maggie studied him. He wasn’t just gorgeous, he was sweet and thoughtful, and got under her skin like no other boy.
He looked at her. “Yeah?”
“How about four out of five?”
With a slow smile, he gently traced the skin of her cheek with his knuckles. Shivers swept up and down Maggie’s spine.
Vanessa could have that carnival bunny, she thought. I have him.