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    Chapter One

    Chase Tallman watched as the bright-eyed, bloodthirsty lab tech tied a large elastic band around the middle of his arm hoping to expose a few of Chase’s veins.

    “There’s a good one,” the woman said as she passed two fingers over the crook of his arm where a blue vein now bulged out. “You have great veins,” she said, sounding sincere.

    Her hands were cold. Extra cold, making a chill run up his arm.

    “Just a little stick and we’ll be done.” She smiled at him and reached over to pick up the needle with the large tube attached, taking the plastic tip off the syringe. Shit! How much blood did the woman need?

    He freaking hated needles. But he didn’t flinch. Fourteen was too old to flinch. He hadn’t even cried when he broke his arm last summer during baseball practice. It had hurt like hell, but his coach had been the one to take him to the hospital and the last thing he’d wanted was to look weak in front of his coach.

    Chase glanced around the small lab in the doctor’s office that was practically hidden in some remote part of the Rockies. He wasn’t exactly sure why his dad had insisted on them taking part in this research study, but it had to be pretty important for his dad to get his plane checked out and fly them up from Houston to participate.

    Not that Chase liked it. Who gave up their blood for no reason? But the promise of a weekend in a cabin in the mountains, plus the plane ride, made it worth it. The fact that his sister’s best friend, Tami Collins, tagged along, made it more than worth it. Hell, he’d let them stick him with needles all day for the pleasure of seeing her in her bathing suit again. Holy cow, she’d looked hot last night when she’d joined him and his sister in the hot tub.

    For a second last night, he would’ve sworn she’d been playing footsies with him. It could have been an accident, but he hoped not. And he wished like hell he hadn’t shifted away.

    He liked to think she’d finally stopped looking at him as her best friend’s baby brother and started looking at him like … a guy. A potential boyfriend kind of guy. Hell, he was less than a year younger than she and stood a good eight inches taller. Most people took him for at least sixteen.

    Feeling the prick of the needle, the medical tech dug around for a vein. To distract himself from the pain, he closed his eyes and thought of Tami’s dips and curves, of how her dark brown hair had looked dancing on her bare shoulders. It worked, too.

    Unlike most of his friends who were into computer games and denied their fascination with the opposite sex, Chase gave up his denial. He’d rather study a pretty girl than get to the next level of Battlefield 4 any day of the week. Hell, he’d rather touch or kiss a girl than play baseball. And he really liked playing baseball.

    Problem was, he was better at sports than he was at even getting close to first base with a girl. Or at least that’s what Susie Muller told him last year after the eighth grade dance. But the girl had braces, how was he supposed to kiss her?

    Somehow he just knew if he got the opportunity to kiss Tami, he’d be better at it. She didn’t have braces and her mouth was … so soft looking.

    Hell, he’d practiced kissing her in his fantasies a hundred times. He should be an expert by now.

    “All done,” the lab tech said, patting Chase’s arm with one hand while she pressed a cotton swab over the tiny drop of blood oozing from the needle’s prick. “Oops, I’m out of Band-Aids here. Hold this for me.”

    He put his finger on the ball of cotton. She reached around to get a Band-Aid out of the cabinet. He kept his finger on the piece of swab, but probably not hard enough, because a red stream of blood seeped from under the cotton ball and oozed down the crook in his arm.

    “Push on it a little harder,” she said, still facing the cabinet as if she knew he was bleeding. Then she turned and peeled the Band-Aid open.

    As she secured a bandage over the puffy piece of cotton, he glanced up at her. When her eyes shifted upward, he almost gasped at how her eyes glowed. They had been bright green before, but now they were fluorescent lime green.

    As if self-conscious, she glanced away and seemed to purposely not look back at him. Or at least it appeared that way.

    “You can go,” she said, taking more Band-Aids out of the cabinet and putting them on her cart.

    He didn’t have to be told twice. Not actually scared, because he was too old to be scared, but slightly freaked out, he rose from the chair and started out.

    As he stepped out of the room, he heard his dad’s deep voice boom down the hall. He looked over his shoulder. His dad stood in the doorway of another small room with a man wearing a white lab coat.

    “You’ll let me know the results as soon as you can, right?” his father asked.

    “Of course,” the man said.

    What results? They were here for a research study. Weren’t they?

    Chase watched the two men shake hands, and then feeling as if he was eavesdropping, he turned and went in search of the waiting room to find his mom, and hopefully Tami.

    ***

    “Did you cry?” his older sister Mindy asked as Chase walked up to where she stood with his mom and Tami.

    He shot his sister a frown and would have shot her the bird if his mom hadn’t been beside her. “Not as hard as you, I’m sure,” he smarted back, looking at her Band-Aid. His sister, barely five feet tall, could always be a big pain in the ass, but she upped her game anytime Tami was around. Why, he didn’t know. Did she secretly know that he had a crush on Tami and just wanted to make him look bad?

    “Did it hurt?” Tami asked, looking from his sister to him.

    “A little,” Mindy answered, and tossed her dark hair over her shoulder.

    “No, it didn’t,” Chase said.

    His sister rolled her blue eyes. “Be careful or he might ask you to kiss it.” She snickered.

    Okay, that did it. He didn’t care if his mom saw or not. He gave his sister the third finger salute accompanied by a go-screw-yourself scowl.

    “Chase!” Mom reprimanded, but he ignored her. If she wanted him to behave, she was gonna have to control her firstborn who excelled at being a bitch.

    His sister looked triumphant at getting Chase scolded. But he noted that Tami just grinned.

    “What kind of test was it?” Tami asked, and her dark brown eyes looked back at his mom.

    “Just a general research study on genetics,” his mom answered.

    Chase thought about his dad asking for the results. Something wasn’t adding up.

    “You mean, like if you guys will get cancer or something? My mom had a test to see if she would get breast cancer. She won’t. Her blood work confirmed her tatas are safe,” Tami said.

    He almost laughed. Yet, right after hearing Tami say “breast” and “tatas,” the temptation to glance at Tami’s chest beneath her red sweater swept through him. However, not wanting to get caught ogling, he reached down and picked up a sports magazine and pretended to be interested in the cover. But, hands down, he’d rather have been looking at her br**sts then Billy Hamilton’s ugly mug. He didn’t care how good the guy was at baseball.

    “No, it’s not for cancer,” Mom said.

    “Then what was it for?” Tami asked, innocently enough.

    Chase glanced up, his own curiosity piqued, thinking his mom might have learned something about it by now.

    “It’s just a research study.” Frustration sounded in his mom’s voice. Though he didn’t understand why she would be upset at Tami for asking the same questions he’d heard her ask his father two weeks ago. Oddly, Dad had given Mom the same vague answer as she gave Tami now.

    His dad walked out from the back room, wearing his own Band-Aid. Right then, it occurred to Chase that they hadn’t tested his mom. If it was really just some random research study, why hadn’t they tested her as well? He almost asked, but decided his dad would answer better if they were alone.

    Mom handed Dad his coat. “Thanks.” He slipped it on and then leaned down to kiss her cheek. And he really had to lean, too. At six feet four, he towered above Chase’s mom who was only a few inches over five feet. Nothing against Mom, but Chase had always been glad he’d inherited his dad’s height gene.

    “Please don’t start the kissing stuff in public,” Mindy said. “It’s embarrassing.”

    Mom frowned at her. Dad grinned. “I can’t help it if your mom still does it for me. You want to see a real kiss?”

    “Please, no!” Mindy said seriously when their dad slipped his arm around Mom’s waist and pulled her closer.

    “Stop it,” Mom said and giggled.

    “I’d like to see it,” Tami said. “I think it’s sweet.”

    His dad laughed. “Since we had to skip breakfast for the test, are you guys ready to grab an early lunch?”

    “I’m starving,” Mindy said, “but Tami and I want to go to the street fair in Old James Town. It’s sort of a Halloween festival. They’ve got rides, a haunted house, palm readers, and fortune-tellers. They even have a band playing in the town square.”

    And the boy who was staying in the cabin next door was going, too, Chase thought, remembering that Eric had mentioned it last night when he came over to chat while they’d been in the hot tub. Chase didn’t particularly care for Eric. Or the way he’d stared at Mindy and Tami in their bathing suits. Sure, Chase had appreciated Tami, but there was a difference between appreciating and gawking. Eric had gawked. Thankfully, he’d seemed more interested in Mindy than Tami. Though Chase didn’t particularly like the dude staring at his sister, either. Baxter hadn’t been thrilled about it, either. Baxter, their black Lab, normally liked everyone. But he’d growled at the kid.

    Chase had decided to go with the motto: If Baxter didn’t like you, Chase didn’t like you.

    Not that Mindy seemed to mind Eric’s rude stares. Heck, what did he know? Maybe girls liked to be gawked at.

    Chase listened as his sister continued to sell the festival to their parents. He seriously doubted that Mindy would tell them about Eric going to the festival. His parents had a thing about Mindy not dating until she was sixteen. Mindy, however, had a thing about boys.

    His mom looked at her watch. “We could stop by for an hour, but we have skiing lessons at one.”

    “I don’t want to do the skiing lessons,” Mindy whined. “We did that yesterday. Why can’t you just drop us off and let us stay the day? You and Dad can pick us up after skiing. Pleeeeeasssse?”

    Chase stared down at the magazine he still held, hoping his mom said no. He’d already had the perfect day planned. They’d spend four hours skiing, take Baxter for a walk at the park a mile from the cabin, and then come back and go to the hot tub. He really wanted to see if Tami rubbed her foot against his again. If she did, this time he wasn’t going to move his leg.

    “I …” His mom hesitated.

    Chase glanced up. Say no. Say no.

    “Sorry,” his mom continued. “I’m not comfortable with you two alone at a street fair all day.”

    “Mom,” Mindy whined. “I’m fifteen, not five!”

    “Why don’t we compromise,” his dad joined in. “Take Chase with you and I think you three will be fine.”

    He could live with that compromise, Chase thought. He’d lose skiing, and Baxter would lose out on his walk, but going to the festival with Tami could be fun. And they could do the hot tub when they came back. Yup. Chase liked the sound of that. And what he liked more was the fact that his dad gave him the role of taking care of his sister instead of the other way around.

    As much as he liked it, Mindy didn’t. She rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to babysit.”

    Chase scowled. “Didn’t you hear him? I’m the one babysitting you.” He almost said something about Eric being there just to get even for her bitchiness. But right before he tattled, he closed his mouth. Just because his sister was a shit didn’t mean he had to be one.

    “It’s so unfair,” Mindy snapped. “I’m older and you’re always acting as if—”

    “He’s bigger and twice your weight,” Dad said, pointing out that Mindy had inherited her height gene from Mom. “And bad things are less likely to happen with three of you together.”

    Mindy let out a huff of disappointment. “But—”

    “It’s the deal breaker as far as I’m concerned.” Dad gave Mindy a stern look and then looked at their mom. “What do you say, hon? You okay if all three go?”

    His mom paused. “I guess if Chase goes with you, it would be fine.” She looked at Chase. “Do you mind going with your sister? Or were you set on going skiing?”

    He hesitated, glancing at Mindy for a pregnant pause, hoping she appreciated that he could refuse, and all her plans would be flushed down the toilet.

    Not that he would flush them. If it took putting up with Mindy to be with Tami, he’d do it in a snap. But his sister didn’t have to know that. He hoped she didn’t know it. The less power she held over him the better.

    “Nah, I’ll go,” Chase finally said.

    “Great,” said Tami, and she actually reached over and gave his arm a soft squeeze. Her touch sent tiny currents of something really sweet through his body and had him remembering how it felt when her foot had brushed up against his. Blinking, he gazed into her face. She smiled so big that her dark brown eyes crinkled. Was she really that happy he was going?

    Pulling her hand back, she looked back at his parents. “I’ve been wanting to have my palm read for years.” She pushed her dark hair over one shoulder and he watched as it cascaded across her back. For some crazy reason he wondered if it was as soft as it appeared. “I love festivals.”

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