Eggs_Martini: Escape now.
AM_1906: Like rocks for jocks will be better? You can die from a mudslide or avalanche or other geological disasters. Global warming, anyone?
Eggs_Martini: Rocks do not cause or are not related to global warming.
AM_1906: I’m pretty sure the class is more than about rocks.
Eggs_Martini: Clearly not or it wouldn’t be rocks for jocks.
I was so intent on my IM conversation with Ellie, I hadn’t noticed that Bo had angled himself to view my screen until I felt the brush of his arm against mine.
“Nosy much?” I hissed, turning the laptop away, my anger and surprise overcoming my initial nervousness.
“Sorry, couldn’t resist,” drawled Bo. The rumor about Bo being a southerner? True. His drawl was as recognizable as the shocking blue eyes he sported. They were so blue I wondered if they were fake. I stared at them for a moment too long, looking for the outline of a contact lens, but saw nothing but pure ocean blue, like the waves you see in the spring break pamphlets of the Caribbean Sea lapping against the white sand beaches. Who needed Cancún when you could stare at Bo Randolph’s eyes for a week?
I wrenched my gaze away. Bo was the poster child for every disaster that female singers warbled about. He’d break your heart and do it smiling. Worse, he’d make you think you were better off for having your heart broken because it was done in by him.
“Why are you even here? Aren’t you a senior?” I said, anger at myself making me sound peevish. At least I kept my voice low enough to avoid getting us in trouble. The professor was on the other end of the stage, making sure everyone in the room was sufficiently depressed with their dim prospects for survival.
“No, I’m a junior college transfer and I’ll be a junior forever unless I get my science prerequisite out of the way,” Bo said, unperturbed. His reportedly quick trigger was apparently not set off by snippy girls. “Why are you here? You seem like a responsible person who would’ve taken her science elective in her first year.”
His gaze swept me like a scanning machine and I felt so thoroughly examined I wondered if he was planning to make a 3D model of me later. Probably wishful thinking, but it didn’t stop a thrill from shooting up my spine at the thought of Bo pulling up a mental picture of me during a private moment.
“How do you know I’m not a first year?” I whispered.
He looked at me disbelievingly. “Because you were a sophomore when you sat behind me last semester in advanced economic theory, AnnMarie West.” He emphasized my name. It was my turn to be disbelieving. I could not believe that he knew both my name and that I sat behind him in class last semester.
I didn’t have a chance to respond because the professor had strolled back to our side of the auditorium and was instructing us on how to sign up for a lab partner.
“The TA will hand out sign-up sheets. If you know someone and have arranged to be their lab partner, please indicate that on the sheets. If you don’t have one, one will be assigned for you at the end of the day, randomly. Thirty-five percent of your grade will depend on your lab work. Choose your partner wisely.”
My heart sank into my feet. With Ellie in geology, I would be assigned to some random freshman. It could be some guy who would think he could make obscene passes at me because I was that girl, or a girl who thought I’d try to steal her man. This was part of the reason I’d put off my science requirement.
The teacher’s assistant handed Bo, who was sitting at the end of our table, a sheet and he scribbled his name and another. I wondered who he was partnering with and why he wasn’t sitting next to that person. I didn’t know what to write down, given that I avoided all the other students and knew only a few names, none of whom were sitting in this room. But Bo didn’t hand me the sheet when he was done. Instead, he leaned past me and laid it on the far side of the empty table, where another student grabbed it and started writing.
“Hey,” I said, trying to reach for the paper, but Bo covered my hand and jerked his chin at the first-year to go ahead.
I rounded on Bo. “I didn’t get to write my name down.”
“You don’t have to,” Bo said, still holding my hand in his. His large hand made me feel tiny and fragile and, briefly, I allowed myself to enjoy the feeling of being protected, like Bo was the shell of my frail turtle body. I shook it off and reminded myself I had my own protective casing called self-reliance. I tugged gently, but he refused to let me go. “We’re going to be lab partners.”
“We? As in you and I?”
“That would be the correct composition of individuals making up the ‘we’ in my sentence.”
“But…” I wasn’t sure whether I was secretly indignant or relieved.
“You don’t want to be stuck with a first-year. You’re smart, given that you were in advanced theory last semester. You’ll be a good lab partner.”
“But are you a good lab partner for me? You’re taking a first-year elective in your third year. You were in advanced economic theory with me, a sophomore.”
Bo laughed but then grew serious. “Fair enough. Yes. I have good grades, and I never let a teammate down.”
A tremor shot through me at Bo’s words. I didn’t have many people on my team, and this guy, this much-wanted guy, was suggesting he was going to stand beside me? It’s for the class, I cautioned myself. But the part that crushed on Bo all last semester? That small, secret part was whispering things I knew I should not allow myself to believe. Like that Bo wanted to be on my team.
I looked down at my hand, still engulfed in Bo’s, and knew that want was winning the battle against fear.
Sound of Snow
To D and S
I promise you can read this when you’re older. Much older. Like in twenty years.
To Jen—thanks so much for your continual encouragement and faith. I can honestly say I would never have even attempted this if it wasn’t for you!
And to Jess—thanks for letting me be a part of your adventure. It’s been so much fun, and I’ve had a blast!
Boston, six months earlier
HE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT IT was about her that first caught his attention. She was pretty, but he’d seen more beautiful women. She definitely wasn’t his type—if he had one. Elle had been the only woman for him for so long, it was hard for him to even think about other women appealing to him.
This woman looked nothing like Elle, however, although she was blond as well. But unlike Elle’s light ash blond, she was more summery in coloring, with a coppery tinge to her golden hair. He still felt a sharp pang at the thought of Elle, even though it had been nearly four years since her death. But this woman…girl, really, something about her attracted him. Though it had happened so gradually he was almost surprised to realize what he felt.
She looked out of place in the elegant hotel lounge, although she was dressed appropriately enough. But despite the pretty blue dress she wore, she seemed ill-at-ease…until he started playing the piano. Then she seemed entranced by the music, and relaxed.
He liked to play here, in the hotel lounge. That was why he continued to stay at this particular hotel when he was in Boston—the management allowed him to play after the regular musicians’ set ended. He didn’t know why he wanted to play in this bar when he could barely even look at the piano at home. He just knew that playing here gave him respite from the painful memories that haunted him still.
The girl sat alone at a table near the piano. She had been nursing a drink—a vodka tonic, he guessed—for some time. Her golden red hair was cut short in a pixie haircut that suited her, framing her large blue eyes beautifully. Her eyes were stunning, probably her best feature—even from behind the piano he could see how rich and vibrant a blue they were. He’d never seen bluer eyes, in fact.
She didn’t seem to be wearing much make-up and her fresh, natural beauty appealed to him. Her skin was peachy in tone, clear and smooth, and her mouth was wide with lips a soft, tempting pink. She had a curiously innocent air about her, which definitely set her apart from most girls her age.
He thought he was easily at least dozen years older than her, probably more. God knew he felt decades older. She couldn’t be more than twenty-five, and he suspected she was most likely younger than that.
Perhaps that’s what attracted his attention—she seemed like someone out of time, almost old-fashioned. Her dress was feminine and suited her, but quite modest by current trends. It was a classic silk wrap dress that hugged her figure without being overly tight, with elbow length sleeves. The neckline was deep enough to hint at her cl**vage, and the silk clung nicely to full, round br**sts. A delicate cross hung on a thin gold chain and rested in the hollow of her neck. She truly was lovely, like a breath of fresh air.
He hadn’t been the only man to notice her—she’d been approached twice by men during the course of the evening. Both times they’d asked to join her at the table and chatted with her for a few minutes. She’d been perfectly polite, he could tell, but after a few minutes she seemed to make up her mind about something and both men had left. He wondered why she was in the bar—it really didn’t seem like her kind of place.
He finished the last few notes of “Clair de lune” and let the sound linger in the air. He lifted his hands from the keys, not sure if he wanted to continue playing or call it a night, when he heard approaching footsteps. He looked up and stilled—it was the girl, she was walking towards him, a strangely purposeful look on her face.
She stopped when she reached the piano, lightly resting one hand on it. She took a deep breath and smiled at him, and he blinked, dazzled—her smile was luminous, transforming her from pretty to stunning.
“Hello,” she said brightly. “You play marvelously, and I wanted to thank you for your music. Are you a professional? Er, professional pianist, that is?”
He could tell she was nervous, but her determined, forthright air rather charmed him. “Thank you, but no, I’m not a professional.”
“Well, I think the world lost out on hearing you play. I heard you play last night as well—I was with a friend and we were both impressed with your skill. I actually came tonight hoping to hear you play again,” she said.
He was surprised to hear that she had been here the previous night—he hadn’t noticed her last night in the bar. He wondered if the friend she had been with was male or female. “You flatter me, but I’m really not that good. I just had a lot of lessons growing up.” He didn’t mention that he did train as a classical pianist until he rebelled in his teens.
“Oh, but you are!” she exclaimed. “But I don’t want to embarrass you, so I’ll stop with the compliments.” She hesitated, took another deep breath and said, “Can I buy you a drink?”
She surprised him again—she really didn’t seem like the type to chat up strange men in bars, and truthfully she seemed quite uncomfortable as she waited for his answer. He opened his mouth, ready to decline politely, when he heard himself say, “Yes, thank you, I would like that.”
“Oh, wonderful!” she said happily and she really did seem sincere. He told himself that he was just curious about her, and it had been a long time since a woman had interested him enough to arouse his curiosity. It had nothing to do with her glorious smile or her remarkably beautiful blue eyes or her lissome, feminine curves…
They walked to the table where she’d been sitting, and a waitress came promptly over. The girl looked at him questioningly.
“I’ll have a Glenlivet on the rocks,” he told the waitress.
“And I’ll have another vodka tonic,” the girl added.
The waitress left with their orders and an awkward silence descended. Beneath the awkwardness, though, was a pulsing tension, an awareness of each other that was undeniably sexual. The tension started to become unbearable when the girl blurted, “So, are you from Boston?”
His lips quirked slightly. “No, I’m from New York. I’m here on business.”
“Oh! Are you from the city? I’ve only visited New York City once but I’m hoping to see it again and do all the touristy things I haven’t done yet, you know, like see the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. But Boston is a wonderful city too, and I don’t think I’ve seen all there is in Boston either. I’m from Boston, South Boston specifically. So what kind of business are you in? I’m Ria, by the way,” she said.
He was saved from an immediate reply by the waitress who returned with their drinks. He was amused when she took a big gulp of her vodka tonic and then coughed a little as she swallowed. She was definitely very nervous and he found himself wanting to put her at ease.
“Hello, Ria, a pleasure to meet you. I’m Gabriel. I’m actually not from Manhattan though I’m very familiar with it. I live outside the city. I agree, Boston is a lovely city although I don’t usually have much time to see the sights when I’m here—I’m usually in meetings most of the day.” He deliberately didn’t say what kind of business he was in. Call him cynical, but he didn’t want her to realize how wealthy he was. He didn’t think she’d approached him because she knew he had money, but why take the chance?