Home > Exploring the Rules (The Dating Playbook #4)(2)

Exploring the Rules (The Dating Playbook #4)(2)
Author: Mariah Dietz

Stubborn and strong-willed are my middle names, hyphenated only by my love for adventure. However, this trip was supposed to be a girls’ trip. We were supposed to drive across the country with our good friend Meredith, sightseeing along the way and soaking up the feeling of independence and freedom before going back for our junior year and apartment hunting, job hunting, and full-time classes.

Then everything changed.

Meredith broke her femur and is now flying back to Seattle in four weeks. Vanessa got tired of discussing the pros and cons of different apartments in and around Seattle, and unbeknownst to me, chose the smallest on our shortlist that had only been on it because of her insistence. It’s the most expensive, tiny, and has no patio. Then, to turn things into full upheaval, she made plans with Cooper to take this trip that has us leaving two weeks earlier than originally planned because he has to be back in time for football season.

I’m grateful, it just feels like the one time Mom made mashed potatoes and burnt the bottom layer—the top looked okay, but it still tasted burnt.

I take a deep breath of the humid air and remind myself why this will be okay. Arriving earlier than planned will allow us more time to job hunt and get settled, and though I’m concerned about what might happen between Nessie and Cooper, there are far worse ways to spend the last few weeks of summer than on a road trip across the country.

Nessie pats my shoulder like she can hear my silent resolve. “This is going to be amazing. Epic.”

“Is that them?” Mom asks as a large black SUV slows and turns into the driveway.

I shake my head. “N—” I start, knowing Cooper was planning to drive his grandma’s old Honda.

“Yes,” Nessie says, cutting me off, her lips pulled wide at the corners as she winces.

Panic sets in.

Mom and Dad move down the driveway to welcome Cooper as Nessie leans closer. “This was the only way. It’s going to be a short trip, we’re going to see several cities, and it’s going to be amazing.” Her words come out rushed.

And then Tyler Banks appears from the driver’s side, and every reason for not wanting to go multiplies tenfold.

“What is he doing here?” I hiss, my attention cutting to my sister as accusation drips from my words.

The biggest, cheesiest, and fakest smile she can muster slowly appears on Nessie’s face. “He’s going with us?” It sounds like a question. One I’m hoping to debate.

I grip Nessie’s arm as she starts to turn away. “What are you talking about?”

“He has a work thing, and this worked out perfectly. His car is bigger, and we’ll save a ton on hotels.”

“No.” I shake my head, still believing I have some say in the matter.

Nessie drops her chin. “Come on. It won’t be that bad. Tomorrow, we’ll be in New Orleans, dancing to jazz music and eating all the amazing food. Focus on the positives.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”

“I couldn’t. I knew if I did, you’d say no.”

I glance toward the car to ensure they’re out of earshot. “Because I hate him,” I hiss.

Nessie frowns. “Don’t even start. You barely know Tyler. You spend all your time avoiding him.”

I try not to glower. “I know enough about him to know he’s an asshole—hence why I avoid him.”

Vanessa stamps her fists onto her hips that, despite our similar genes, are narrower than mine. Likely because she’s a cheerleader at Brighton University and works out like it’s her job. Meanwhile, I spent the summer indulging in Mom’s homemade food and the cookies Dad hides in the bread box, knowing Mom won’t find them there because she doesn’t like bread, which is almost as strange as it is appalling. “He’s not that bad.”

“He’s so cocky. And last year when you made me go to that Halloween party, I saw him make out with three different girls. Three. At one party.”

Nessie shrugs. “I’ve heard worse.”

“That doesn’t make it any better.”

Before she can reply, Dad’s beside us again. “Do you know how much that car’s worth?” His voice is lowered into a whisper.

Cooper turns from where he’s talking with our mom and smiles in our direction. Though much about Coop has changed in the past four years, his smile has not. It still exposes one dimple, and his cheeks are still slightly rounded, too soft for being twenty-one. His eyes are a dark brown that matches his finger-length hair, which is swept away from his face in a tidy mess. Once, Cooper was gangly and short, but now, he still has a few inches on me even when I wear heels. And while he’s still on the thinner side, defined muscles cord their way over his body—which we saw firsthand all summer in our pool.

“Hey,” Cooper says, waving.

“Hey, Cooper.” Dad moves closer, greeting him with a handshake and starts confirming our travel plans, but I don’t hear the conversation because Tyler Banks steps forward. His disheveled dark blond hair, piercing blue eyes, and rounded lips that hide his emotions nearly as well as his silence. It’s like he read a manual on how to be broody and decided to master the skill set.

“Mom, this is Tyler Banks,” Vanessa says, extending a manicured hand toward Tyler, who surprises me by flexing a small smile and shaking her hand.

“Pleasure to meet you.” His British accent—which is notorious at Brighton and likely all of Miami where he’s from—makes our mom practically swoon. I’m pretty sure Dad’s even developing a man-crush as he stares at Tyler’s car and biceps and starts recounting Brighton’s undefeated football season last year and his own glory days from Brighton.

“That’s a nice car you drive,” Dad says when Tyler moves to help with our bags.

Tyler glimpses over his shoulder, his gaze stopping at me for only a second before meeting the target of his Tesla. I’d argue that it’s elaborate and screams ostentatious, but Vanessa is starting to tell Cooper which bags she’s going to need access to and which can be buried, and Mom’s asking me about our hotel room confirmation for tonight.

“I didn’t make them, remember?” I ask, awkwardness edging its way into my voice and making my discomfort grow rapidly. I should have been concerned when Nessie assured me she and Cooper had it all taken care of—should have been more suspicious when I asked for details, and she gave me blanket answers about Cooper having gotten great deals through a friend. I hadn’t considered that friend was Tyler Banks, heir to one of the largest hotel chains in America. A British playboy who grew up bouncing between continents and leaving a trail of tabloid stories and broken hearts in his wake.

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