Max and Ruby have fallen hard for each other after a bitter grad school rivalry turned first into lust, and then into love. When the school year comes to an end, they’re faced with a new challenge: a summer apart. My latest novel, THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, is available now on Amazon.
Read the bonus scene below.
Even though Max had become a member of the user experience design student organization after losing the presidency to Ruby, Max could still be cajoled into attending certain networking functions hosted by GLiSS.
One of these was the end-of-year pot luck that the organization hosted every November before the winter break. The event served two purposes – it was a time for socializing and commiserating over final exams, and it was also the time when Ruby would pass the torch to the next president. She knew Max wouldn’t be interested in the socializing aspect, even if she did try to convince her it was also networking, but Ruby thought that Max might like to be there for her last official act as GLiSS president.
On the afternoon of the event, Ruby stood in her tiny kitchenette mixing canned pineapple chunks and cranberries in a bowl to imitate her mother’s famous and secretly dead simple cranberry sauce. Max stood in the doorway watching her and trying to find reasons not to go.
“I don’t know any of these people,” Max objected. “This is your student organization, not mine.”
“You do too,” Ruby argued. “You see them in half of your classes.”
“But I don’t talk to them.”
“That’s exactly why this is an excellent networking opportunity,” Ruby said. “Who knows who will end up being the director of a library you want to work at ten years from now? It pays to be friendly and get your name out there.”
“That sounds like brown-nosing,” Max said, then she wrinkled her nose at the mixture in the bowl. “Are you sure that’s going to taste good?”
Ruby laughed and dipped a spoon into the mixture, holding it up for Max to taste. “It’s basically like chunky applesauce, but with a kick from the cranberries.”
Max took the bite and Ruby could tell from the look on her face that she was preparing to hate it. Her lip curled a little as she said, “Interesting.”
“Shut up,” Ruby said, making as if she was going to crack Max on the back of the hand with the spoon.
“Please come to the party. We only need to stay long enough for me to announce the new president – thirty minutes, maximum.”
So Max relented. She usually did – it was a task to convince her of anything, but most of the time she did what would make Ruby happy.
Max carried the bowl of cranberry sauce and they went into the snowy afternoon. This time instead of heading for the library, they walked across campus to the student union, where Ruby had reserved the ballroom for the party. It was a large room on the second floor above the dining hall, and it had tall windows with regal, floor-length curtains hanging from them. It was much fancier than necessary for a pot luck, but it gave an air of importance to the event.
Some of the group had already arrived by the time Ruby and Max climbed the stairs, and a few people came over to greet Ruby.
“Babe, could you put the cranberry sauce on the buffet with the rest of the food?” Ruby asked, pointing Max toward a long table full of crock pots, bowls and casserole dishes.
“Sure,” Max answered, walking away.
Ruby knew Max did better when she had a specific task to set her sights on, and even though this was a small one, it would give Ruby enough time to disperse the crowd before she came back. Then she could walk Max around the room and introduce her to everyone individually, and she’d be more comfortable that way. In the meantime, she turned on the charm and greeted everyone who came up to her.
Most of the early birds were GLiSS officers, the ones that had helped Ruby plan the event, and people who would be graduating alongside Max and Ruby. Then there was the new guard – students from the graduating class below them.
Some of them were nice, and some had been thorns in Ruby’s side since the beginning of the year, particularly the suck-ups who thought that getting close to her would help them win the presidency.
The president-elect – a guy named Craig – loved to corner Ruby and pick her brain about the position, as if it were something prestigious and not just a one-year term coordinating social events and running weekly meetings.
Ruby glanced around when Max didn’t return immediately, and she spotted her lingering near the buffet. She probably didn’t want to deal with the people that just kept coming up to Ruby, so she decided to make her way over to Max instead.
This was a task easier said than done, though. Getting through the crowd was like swimming through molasses. Every time she looked for Max, though, Max was in exactly the same spot. She didn’t budge from the end of the table, and she didn’t talk to anyone walking down the buffet line, filling their plates.
Ruby watched this with dismay, hoping that one of them would talk to her. She felt Mira’s absence more strongly than ever now, and Ruby figured that whatever loss she was feeling, Max must be experiencing it tenfold. Ruby just needed one person to take a chance and be friendly to Max.
That person ended up being none other than Craig.
Ruby had just managed to break away from a group of first-year grad students when she noticed that Max was talking to him, or rather, Craig was talking to her. A man after Ruby’s heart, it was clear that he couldn’t turn off the urge to campaign even after he had the presidency locked down, and he must have mistaken Max for a new member.
Ruby wasn’t about to interrupt Max while she was in the middle of making a new friend, so she ducked behind the coffee station and occupied herself with slowly pouring herself a cup. She didn’t want Max to notice her and lose interest in her new companion.
She didn’t intend to overhear their conversation – Ruby wasn’t the eavesdropping type – but the coffee station just so happened to be within earshot of the end of the buffet line where they were standing. Craig was trying to win Max over with conversation about the food.
“I brought that impressive bag of chips over there,” he said self-deprecatingly. “I’m not sure how I managed to get through twenty-three years of my life without learning how to cook, but there you have it. What about you?”
“I didn’t bring anything,” Max said. “My girlfriend made the cranberry sauce and I guess my contribution is that I carried it here.”
“The organization thanks you for your service,” Craig said, laughing heartily at his own joke before Max had a chance to respond.
“Don’t thank me before you taste it,” Max answered.
Ruby had to repress a little bit of irritation over this wise crack – her mother’s cranberry sauce was devoured enthusiastically by the whole family every year. But it was a small price to pay to see Max making a new connection, so she picked up her coffee cup and wandered back into the crowd to talk to some new people. Max would be okay for a little while on her own, and Ruby wanted to give her the space to make a new friend, even if it was Craig.
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