Authors: Emily March
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To the real angel of Eternity Springs—
SIX YEARS EARLIER
COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS
Lori Reese awoke to the sensation of teeth nibbling that sweet spot on her neck that invariably made her shiver. “Mmm…” She groaned as she opened her eyes. Her gaze sought her bedside clock and dismay washed through her. “I have class in fifteen minutes.”
“Skip it.” Chase Timberlake’s husky voice rumbled against her ear.
Lori instinctively arched against the big hand that traced a slow caress across the naked curve of her hip. They’d fallen into her bed within twenty minutes of his arrival for a long weekend visit, his second in as many weeks, and she was in no hurry to leave it. Unfortunately, staying in bed wasn’t an option. “It’s my anatomy and physiology class. I can’t skip it.”
“Sure you can. I’ll teach you everything you need to know about anatomy.” He nipped at her earlobe and added, “I’m an expert.”
“Chase,” she protested, even as she suppressed a smile. “That’s a terrible line.”
Swiping the rough pad of his thumb across the sensitive flesh of her nipple, he asked, “Are you calling me a liar?”
“No.” She groaned.
He rolled her beneath him and his brown eyes gleamed wickedly as he challenged, “Be daring, be bold.” He stroked her lower lip with the tip of his tongue. “Be bad.”
“You are bad enough for both of us.”
“It’s a talent of mine,” he quipped. “I practice.”
Yet, “bad” wasn’t the proper term for Chase, Lori knew. He was actually very good at what he did, though what he did wasn’t ordinary. Despite having earned his business degree from the University of Colorado, Chase continued to work at what had been his summer job—guiding white-water rafting trips from April through October on the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers. Rafting had become his obsession. He had a bucket list of rivers he wanted to raft in his lifetime, and Lori had no doubt that he’d ride each one. Off-season, he led backcountry skiing tours for an outfitter out of Durango. He claimed that he was still trying to decide what to do when he grew up.
In contrast, Lori had known what she wanted to be since a school field trip to the veterinary clinic in Creede, Colorado, in the third grade. Due to the brutally competitive nature of vet school admissions, she didn’t dare spend the entire afternoon rolling between the sheets with Chase. She braced her hands against his chest. “I’m not the ‘bad’ type. I’m responsible and boring.”
“Not true. Responsible, yes. Boring? Never. You, Lori my love, are as exciting as Class VI rapids. As exhilarating as backcountry skiing.” He dipped his head and licked the valley between her breasts. “As thrilling as skydiving.”
His lips trailed lower and weakened Lori’s resistance. She tried once more. “The professor gives pop quizzes.”
“I can do that. For twenty points, name this part.” He slid inside her, stretching her, filling her.
“Half credit. Mr. Happy is too … perky.”
“No fair. It fits.” She rolled her hips and sighed. “He’s perennially perky.”
“Okay, three-quarter credit, then. Full credit goes to Hammer of Thor. Now, quit arguing and let’s get to the pop part of this quiz.”
Lori was late to class. Very late. And sure enough, she walked in on a quiz. Her stomach sank and she swallowed a groan as she took her seat, hoping that today’s lecture had been about something she’d already studied.
She scored a seventeen and left the classroom fighting back tears. She wanted to blame Chase, but she knew that wouldn’t be fair. He hadn’t tied her to the bed.
Though he’d offered to try it if she thought that was something she’d like.
The hot, muggy south-central Texas weather didn’t improve her mood as she trudged across the campus toward the student center where she had arranged to meet Chase. She was so angry at herself. Chase Timberlake could tempt an angel to sin when his eyes took on that adventurous gleam and he flashed that wicked grin. And she was certainly no angel.
a serious student. Hadn’t she learned the importance of education firsthand while watching her single mother struggle? Wasn’t she determined not to repeat her mom’s mistake of letting hormones and a hot guy change the course she’d plotted for her life? So why the heck had she thrown all her good intentions out the window this afternoon at the first touch of his oh-so-talented lips?
“Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.” Muttering softly, she rehearsed what she needed to say to him. “You’ve graduated. I still have years of college and professional school ahead of me. I can’t skip classes. I can’t neglect my study time. I have goals. I must always be on top of my game. Otherwise, I won’t get into vet school and if I don’t get into vet school…” Sudden tears flooded her eyes at the thought. She hurriedly wiped them away when she heard her roommate call her name.
“OMG, Lori,” Molly Stapleton said. “I finally met your hunk. He’s so hot!”
Lori’s lips fluttered with a smile. “You’ve been to the apartment?”
“I forgot my history textbook. Chase was coming out of the shower wearing nothing but your fluffy pink towel. I told him pink was a good color for him. Makes a lovely contrast to his brown eyes. Though I admit I had a hard time tearing my stare away from his shoulders. Holy cow, Lori. He’s built like a god.”
“Rafting is a physical occupation. All that paddling.”
“Well, all I can say is…” Molly gave her auburn hair a toss and winked. “Row, row, row your boat.”
Lori couldn’t help but laugh. “Better not let your Andrew hear you talk like that.”
Molly waved off the concern. “A little jealousy won’t hurt him. I’m shallow that way. Besides, I haven’t been feeling it for Andrew lately.”
“I knew it,” Lori declared. “You’re interested in that guy who chatted you up at the post office the other day, aren’t you? Your old boyfriend. What’s his name? Jimmy?”
“Charlie. Charlie Malone.”
Recognizing the note of interest in her friend’s voice, Lori deduced that she’d seen the last of ol’ Andrew.
The roommates parted ways as Molly headed for a bus stop and Lori continued on to the student center. Entering the building, she made her way to the flag room where she and Chase had arranged to meet. She glanced around, didn’t see him, and decided to check the coffee shop. No Chase.
The return route to the flag room took her past the art gallery where, to her surprise, she spied him speaking animatedly with a man and woman. She glanced at the exhibit poster propped on a display easel beside the door and read: “Adventures in Photography by George Overstreet, Class of 1979. Artist reception five
The university regularly hosted special exhibits on football weekends, so she wasn’t surprised to see a special event in the gallery. Nor was she surprised that the word “adventure” had pulled Chase in. It was the one thing Lori feared she couldn’t compete with where her lover was concerned.
Chase’s back was to her when she stepped into the room, so he didn’t notice her arrival. Lori studied the couple who were the focus of her boyfriend’s attention. The man was in his fifties, she guessed, with snowy, disheveled hair and a beard that needed trimming. He wore a sport coat with elbow patches, a checked bow tie, and dress boots that shone. A character, Lori decided.
The woman was the type whom Lori always found intimidating. Petite with sable-colored hair piled artfully atop her head, she was beautiful and quite a bit younger than her companion—near to her mom’s age, Lori guessed—but with that rich, classy look that reminded her of Chase’s mother, Ali. She wore a little black dress, pearls, and an air of sophistication that Lori couldn’t pull off on a bet with a thousand-dollar budget. Moving closer, she heard Chase say, “… somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit. After seeing your photographs, I definitely want to go there.”
“My husband’s photography is spectacular,” the woman said, looping her arm through her companion’s. “You must see the rainbow he captured above Kalambo Falls on the border of Tanzania and Zambia. It’s on this wall.”
Lori hung back and eavesdropped as Chase admired the photo in question and quizzed the photographer about cameras and lenses and lighting and filters. Photography was a new hobby of his, and this exhibit had certainly captured his interest. She’d seldom heard this much animation in his tone.
Curiously, a wave of unease washed over her at the realization.
The trio moved from photo to photo, and Chase’s attention remained focused on the art. Lori tugged her phone from the pocket of her jeans and checked the time. Almost half an hour now past the time they’d arranged to meet. He was totally and completely distracted, and Lori found herself growing annoyed. Her boyfriend needed to have more respect for her time.
Abruptly, she turned and left the gallery without making her presence known and took a seat near the entrance to the flag room. She’d give him five more minutes—ten at the most—then she was outta here.
He showed up in eight, a sheepish grin on his face, his dark eyes gleaming with excitement. “Sorry, sweetheart. I got talking to the guy in the art gallery. Have you seen his photographs? They’re fascinating. He has the coolest job ever. He travels around the world taking action photographs of people participating in extreme sports. He just returned from Bali and guess what? He has a home and studio in Vail. He’s invited me to go see it.”
Chase babbled on enthusiastically for a few moments until he finally noticed that Lori wasn’t saying much at all. His voice trailed off, and he gazed at her a long minute. “What’s wrong, Glitterbug?”
“I don’t know. What could possibly be wrong?” she snapped. “I love to stand around twiddling my thumbs waiting for my boyfriend to remember I exist after I skipped class to have sex with him. And it was only one little quiz. So what if I made a seventeen? It’s better than a seven.”
His eyes widened, realization dawned, and then he grimaced and gave her a hug. “Yikes. I’m sorry, Lori. My fault. Coming in a day early was a bad idea. I was just so anxious to see you. I miss you so much when we’re apart. October first can’t get here fast enough.”
Lori shut her eyes, torn in two completely opposite directions as so often happened where Chase was concerned. When she’d first gone off to college, they’d agreed to date other people. They both anticipated a friendly end to their romance. Instead, dating others only proved the adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and last summer, they declared themselves exclusive once again—though they’d yet to share the news with their respective families.