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Stephanie lumbered to her feet and gazed at the Michigan offense shuffling off the field.

“Hey, number twenty-three!” she screamed. “Doesn’t number eleven suck?”

-1-

KAYLA

I surveyed the crop of hopeful Ohio State cheerleaders. The herd of kids, most about to start their senior year of high school, had arrived for an intense, week-long camp that was supposed to prepare them for tryouts next spring. If they made it through the week without being cut, they’d land an invitation to interview with the coaching staff and bypass the grueling first day of auditions.

The seniors had promise, athletically speaking, but some of them were too green. It was like mommy and daddy dropped them off at the dorms this morning and the kids hadn’t recovered from severing the umbilical cord.

I swore I’d seen one of the guys walking around with a dazed expression, looking for his parents in the same way as the guy looking for his arm in Saving Private Ryan.

The prospects sat crossed-legged on the turf of the south end zone, most of them shielding their eyes from the bright July sun as they gazed up at me. I’d gotten approval to bring them into the stadium on the first day of camp, hoping to inspire them. Some looked around in awe at the horseshoe-shaped stands. A few tried to pick at the blades of grass, bored as I recounted the story of my mother.

Didn’t they know the grass was plastic?

I flung a finger up to the bleachers on the fifty-yard line. “My mom had me, right there in the stands, fifteen minutes after we beat Michigan. So, I can tell you I was literally born to be an Ohio State Buckeye.”

Beside me, Lisa Kuhn scrutinized the group like they were diseased, and I thanked God for the third time today the squad elected me captain and not her. She was an amazing performer and gymnast. She had a thousand-watt smile you could see from the nose-bleed seats, and she’d never under-rotated a tumbling pass in her life.

But, damn, her personality sucked.

I turned my focus back to what was important. “Be honest now,” I said. “How many of you are legit football fans?”

Less than half of the people before me raised their hand. It wasn’t surprising. At this level, cheerleading was its own sport.

I set my hands on my hips, feigning disappointment. “That’s it?” I joked. “The rest of you don’t want to make the team?”

The girl seated right by my feet looked panicked. “I love football.”

I blinked. “You didn’t have your hand up.”

“I forgot,” she blurted out.

“You forgot to put your hand up? Or that you love football?”

She nodded enthusiastically. “Yes.”

I wanted to sigh at her brown-nosing, but I pasted on a smile. It wasn’t like I could blame her for desperately wanting to be a part of this organization. We got to cheer for the greatest college football team in the world.

“Okay, good,” I said. “Ohio State has a tradition of being the best, and this is going to be our year. We’re going to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and we’ll bring home the—”

A hand near the back shot up. It was a guy whose shirt said, “If you think male cheerleading is funny, let me show you how high I can throw you.” I nodded for him to go ahead and ask his question.

His expression was hardcore. “How many spots are open?”

“We don’t have a specific number. We’ll take everyone who meets our standards.”

As he lowered his hand, he eyed the rest of the group suspiciously, even though I’d just told him they weren’t competition. I couldn’t let their anxious and hopeful gazes get to me. This was the part of being a captain I wasn’t looking forward to. By the end of camp, I’d have disappointed and discouraged quite a few of them, and I hated that.

“We have high standards,” I said. “Not everyone is going to be with us all week.”

Lisa grumbled under her breath. “Some of them won’t make it past lunch. Probably not that guy.”

My gaze narrowed as I shot her a what the hell look. Unfortunately, none of the other senior Buckeye cheerleaders were available for camp, and there were forty-three attendees. Since I couldn’t run the camp by myself, I was stuck with Lisa and her shitty no-filter mouth.

The brown-noser at my feet had the same expression I got when I was doing a stunt and realized my base’s grip was slipping. Trying to hold it together with a smile, masking the terror beneath.

“You’re making cuts today?” she asked.

The first day was more to wash out the people who had no chance of making the team, but I didn’t want to say that. “Don’t worry about it, let’s just have fun. After we’re done here, we’ll go up to the fieldhouse, and Lisa and I will show you the routine you’re—”


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