I Promise You - Ilsa Madden-Mills Page 0,1

then prances off and settles closer to the stage. Off limits, her body language declares.

Vicious girl.

She knows what she wants, and it isn’t those guys.

“I thought this kid was focused. He looks dazed,” Ryker murmurs. He snaps his fingers in my face. “Freshman, get your eyes off the girl.”

“Done,” I say, looking at him. Ryker’s our starting quarterback, and I have a ton of respect for him.

Ryker chuckles. “It’s your first bonfire, but don’t be fooled. Remember: if you see a girl you like—”

“Run as if there’s a three-hundred-pound linebacker on your ass. Don’t engage. Do not get leg-shackled,” I repeat, recalling the warnings the upperclassmen gave us at their dorm room before we piled into cars and drove to the party.

A deep laugh comes from Maverick, another sophomore and our best defensive player. “No joke. There’s weird juju in this part of the woods.”

I let my gaze drift back to her. “Meh, she looks harmless to me.” And what would be wrong with talking to her? Getting a name and number? “Starting to think you tell all the freshmen that so you guys can pick out the hot girls for yourselves.”

Maverick looks at me, and whatever he sees on my face makes him smirk. “Let me tell you a story, kid. I kissed a girl freshman year at this party, and the next time I saw her, she was dating our kicker. Weird, man, just strange how she’s always in my head. I’m telling you, don’t get sucked in. Not worth the headache.”

“Uh-huh. Sounds like she found something better.” I grin.

Maverick barks out a laugh. “Tell him, Blaze.”

“The legend got me by my balls last year, man,” Blaze says ruefully as he shakes his head. “I kissed this chick and we ended up in the loft of the barn making out hot and heavy. Poof. She disappears on me. You see a girl with pink hair, call me.”

“Sure.” I’m barely listening, my eyes darting back to the dancing girl, trying to be covert but also not really caring what they think right now.

Ryker guffaws. “Kid, you’re wearing a hungry look. If you wanna go talk to the girl, go on—”

“Says the guy who hasn’t kissed anyone at the bonfire,” Maverick interrupts tersely.

Ryker laughs, waving him off. “But as the legend says, it will come back to haunt you, Dillon, somehow, someday. Wiccans used to live on this land, and they specialized in love spells. The ground we’re standing on is where they lived, where they did their sacrifices. Some say they’re buried in the woods—”

Someone snorts in the background, and I roll my eyes. “Seriously? Come on. There’s no legend, is there? This is a prank and you pull it on all the freshmen.”

Maverick mimics dusting his hands off. “Alright, why don’t you test it and we’ll find out? Just remember, once you kiss her, it’s branded on your heart, some kind of soulmate thing.”

“I call bullshit,” I say on a scoff.

He nods. “Swear. Go to the library on campus. It’s in the history books about Magnolia. They called themselves the Daughters of Venus. You know who Venus is, right? Roman goddess of love, desire, and fertility.”

Unease curls in my gut. If these guys aren’t kidding… “Venus?”

Maverick nods. “Read it after what happened to me freshman year.”

“But the legend itself isn’t in these books? Just the history of the wiccans?” I need specifics. I really want to go talk to this girl.

Maverick raises a brow. “The legend is superstition based on personal experiences. Do you really want to question hundreds of stories from former Waylon students? It’s believed the legend only applies to your first bonfire or to a freshman, so technically the upperclassmen who’ve been here before can kiss anyone without getting hexed, but who knows what’s really true.” His broad shoulders shrug. “I avoid all girls at the bonfire now.”

The seriousness of his tone gets to me.

Okay, I lied before. I am superstitious. Athletes generally are. Sawyer, another freshman, likes to eat a piece of the grass before he takes the field. If it’s turf, he kisses it. Other guys do similar things. And me? Before every game and at halftime, I kiss the tops of my hands as I walk out of the tunnel. It started my senior year in high school, a silent greeting sent up to my brother in heaven. The tradition brought me a prep school state championship. Some scoff at athletes performing repetitive tasks before they play, but it gives me a