“ONLY one thousand more meters. Pull it in, guys!”
The coxswain’s voice rang clear through the boat’s speaker system. Trees slipped by faster as his team pulled, hard, deep, every muscle straining.
Owen’s eyes stung. Sweat dripped from his lashes, and he squeezed his eyelids shut to stop more from getting in. The boat checked hard; Owen felt the jolt in his knees. He concentrated on lengthening his pull.
“The other team is coming up behind us! Picture it in your heads! You don’t want those assholes to win.”
Owen squeezed his eyes shut again.
Stroke, stroke, stroke….
Owen put every drop of himself into the mock race. It wasn’t the purple and gold singlets of the enemy he pictured—it was him. Elijah. Elijah Asshole—Elijah Lukas, really, but asshole fit him so much better. The harder Owen pulled, the less likely the cocky son of a bitch sophomore would get his seat on the top boat. Owen would take another school breathing down his neck any day. It beat having someone from his own team waiting in the wings to take him out.
Owen pulled with his arms and legs and entire soul. He leaned back into the release, feathered his oar, and slid up to a crouch, ready to pull again. Pull, release, slide, pull, release, slide—the rhythm was like a drug. Owen got lost in it. There was no way their imagined competitor could catch them now.
Only a few more strokes… shit!
Owen’s oar was stuck. The damn thing flipped in his hand, the force of the water making it impossible to control. He was thrown forward, and only the strength of his legs, and what was going to be a nasty bruise on his pelvis, kept him from being launched out of the boat into the frigid autumn lake water. Owen yanked as hard as he could, trying to dig his oar out from below the surface, but all he managed to produce was a giant, embarrassing wave of water.
“Pull your head out of your ass, Peters!” his coach shouted from a bullhorn in the launch boat. Easy for him to say. He was standing there with a cup of coffee in his hand instead of a bucking oar.
Owen finally managed to wrench his oar out of the water, but by that time, he’d slowed their boat down so much, the JV team slipped past them into the dock.
“Hey, Peters, didn’t your papa tell you not to catch crabs when you went to college?”
Elijah the asshole and his JV cronies elbowed each other and laughed.
Crabs. Or a crab to be more specific. It’s the act of getting your oar stuck underwater and looking like a big asshole who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Crabs always happened at the worst possible times—like when a know it all, full of himself sophomore like Elijah Lukas was watching with a group of his sycophant cronies. Mother of hell.
“I’ll see you at the ergometers tonight, Peters. Six thousand meters!” his coach called from where he was pulling his motorboat into its slot. Fucking hell. As if catching the crab didn’t suck enough, now I have to do another workout after class. And he had a physics test to study for.
He ignored his boat mates’ good-natured jibes while they carried the boat up the dock and a slippery gravel walkway before placing it in its designated slings in the dark, cool boathouse. It was harder to ignore the sly whisper he caught as he was reaching for his car keys.
“That six seat is looking awfully nice. I think it should have my name on it instead of yours.”
Elijah pulled out Owen’s place marker on the coach’s board, took the popsicle stick with his name on it, and slid it into Owen’s place.
“I like it,” he said softly with a grin.
“Not a chance in the fucking world, junior,” Owen snarled. He yanked Elijah’s stick out and slammed his back in its rightful place. “You can have that seat when I graduate and not a second sooner.”
Elijah grinned. He clearly enjoyed the game. “We’ll see about that. Your graceful little maneuver out there today didn’t help your case a whole lot.”
“Fuck off.” Owen still felt a bit sore about it. The embarrassment from a giant crab like he’d managed to catch usually took a few days to die down.
“See you at dinner.” His reminder came with another one of those infuriating smiles.
Owen gritted his teeth. The entire team ate together at the varsity crew house once a week. Their coach wanted them to bond. He spent most of the time sitting on his hands so he didn’t punch the smarmy smile off of Elijah Lukas’s goddamned face.