24: Another Innocent Girl

Saturday was low key and low pressure, something everyone seemed to need.

Phillip definitely needed it. His conversation with Ginny the night before had left a warmth in his center that he clung to with all his strength. Aside from that, he quite plainly felt like shit. He couldn’t stop sweating. His heartbeat raced and stuttered. From minute to minute, his mood swung from a cocky “I got this” to “God I would sell my soul for a drink right now.”

He concentrated on the work. And in between, he avoided the others as much as possible, for fear he’d lose his cool and say something stupid. Or possibly punch Marcus Greer. With luck, that particular temptation would be gone by the end of the day.

Marcus was a smooth operator, but he calculated he’d pretty much run out of time. His error, he thought, had been in playing it too close to the vest while he tried to decide whether to play his hand with Ginny or with Lani. He should’ve gone for one bird’s bush instead of chasing after two. Which meant that in order to stay in the contest, he was going to have to count on people noticing the alleged improvement in his work ethic. And the fact that when he put his mind to it, he could play guitar circles around Dustin Powell.

Then, about an hour before the day’s elimination round, Lani asked Marcus to meet her upstairs.

Marcus had heard the word “voluptuous” before. He’d even thought he’d known what it meant.

He hadn’t known what it meant. Not until Lani wrapped herself around him. And then.

Dear god.

He surrendered.

Marcus was still smiling when he strutted into the studio for the elimination round. He and Lani were the last to arrive, but they weren’t exactly late. Not as late as he’d have liked to be. He resisted the nearly-overwhelming urge to plant his hands on Lani’s ass as she walked through the door he held open for her. He didn’t often indulge in repeat performances–women started thinking it meant something if you screwed them more than once. But since Lani was guaranteed to vote for him tonight, he might actually be around long enough to do her again.

And then he had to tear his gaze away from her body and think about other things, before fantasizing about what he wanted to do with that body made him… uncomfortable.

“So.” Ginny glanced around the room before starting. “Shall we take a vote on whether to continue with any immunity rules? Or has that little issue been resolved?”

The way Ginny said that, with a fierce tightness in her voice and a little tic at the corner of her mouth, Marcus thought there was more to that situation than she was stating.

Patrice shrugged. “Like I said–good idea, but I don’t know that we need it. Especially now. I trust everyone in this room to play fair.”

No one looked toward Marcus. Not even a glance. He smirked.

“All right, then.” Ginny turned his way. “Marcus? You have first vote tonight.”

Marcus didn’t hesitate. “Dustin.”

Dustin’s mouth fell open.

Marcus shrugged. “Sorry, big guy. You had kind of a slack couple of days.”

In more ways than one. Loser.

Then Marcus sat back and watched the rest of the cards fall. Like Patrice had said, the others were likely to play fair with their votes. Most of them. Marcus had an ace in the hole, now.

That thought, coupled with his gaze drifting toward Lani, nearly made him uncomfortable again.

“Sorry, Dustin.” Patrice smiled with genuine sympathy at Dustin as she cast the next vote. “You’re good. Really good. But you did sort of slip this week.”

She glanced at Marcus as she spoke, as if mentally noting how convenient it was that Marcus had stepped up his game just as Dustin’s fell apart. Marcus just smiled at her.

Dustin voted third. “Marcus,” he mumbled.

Was the big guy pouting? Marcus attempted to look a little less gleeful.

Lani’s vote was next. Marcus smiled and crossed his arms, preparing to be vindicated when she voted for Dustin. Or maybe Jeremy. But probably Dustin.

“Marcus,” Lani said.

Marcus’s mouth fell open. Lani eyed him coolly and arched one eyebrow.

With effort, Marcus closed his mouth. Then one corner of his mouth curved upward.

She played me. Holy shit. She played me.

The other side of his mouth lifted. He chuckled, bemused. And honestly, pretty damned impressed.

Lani smiled sweetly at him.

“So, that’s two votes each for Marcus and Dustin.” Ginny turned an apologetic look on Jeremy. “Jeremy? You’re our tiebreaker, it looks like.”

Jeremy stared back with a horrified expression. He glanced at Dustin. At Marcus. Back at Dustin again. Then he sighed. His shoulders dropped.

“I’m sorry, Dustin. Marcus really has been working hard.”

Dustin’s eyes widened. His always-slack face went even slacker. For a second, Marcus worried Dustin might cry.

He distracted himself by moving to an angle where he could stare at Lani’s ass.

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