“I saw something I wanted to buy,” Tami said, and moved in close to him. “I saw it when I went to get the ice earlier.”

He almost said they should have told him, but bit back the words. He didn’t want Tami to think he was too controlling.

“Do you want it now or later?”

He paused a second. “It’s for me?”

“Yeah,” she said as if he should have figured it out.

He suddenly felt bad. He hadn’t bought her anything. Not that he’d really had a chance, but …

“I say you open it now.” Tami beamed and handed him a plastic bag.

“Yeah, open it now,” Mindy said, putting her two cents in. “You’ll like it.”

Chase looked from Mindy to Tami. “But I didn’t get you—”

“Don’t be silly, open it. It’s just a little thing. It’s not even really for you, but … well, sort of.”

Chase pulled a leather dog collar from the bag.

“It’s for Baxter,” Tami said. “But read what it says. I saw it when I was waiting for them to get ice for your hand. They had them hanging from a display case.”

Chase turned the dog collar around and read the inscription: NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON A CHALLENGE.

“Crazy, isn’t it?” Tami said. “It’s the same thing the fortune-teller said.”

“Yeah,” Chase agreed, rubbing his finger on the soft leather.

Tami made a face. “I’ll bet the crazy lady saw it earlier and just used it. But … it’s not a bad saying. And I know how much Baxter means to you.”

“He does. And … I like the collar. Thank you. And Baxter will thank you.”

She lifted up on her tiptoes. Her lips came so close to his that he could feel her soft breath. He also felt her soft br**sts against his chest. And that felt really, really good.

“You’re welcome,” she said. Then she kissed him.

Mindy chuckled. “I hate to rain on your parade, but you two don’t have time to play kissy-kissy. We need to meet Dad.”

Chase frowned at his sister and tucked the collar in his coat pocket. Then, not turning his back on a challenge, he reached over and slipped his hand into Tami’s. It fit perfectly against his.


His dad drove like a bat out of hell to get to the cabin. Supposedly, he’d heard about the incoming storm while skiing and had driven Chase’s mom home to start packing. “Five minutes,” he said as they walked into the cabin. “There’s some talk that the storm could come in earlier and I have to get home. I can’t be delayed here.”

His dad tossed his coat on the sofa. “Amy? You packed and ready?” he called out to Chase’s mom.

“Almost,” came her voice from the bedroom.

“Go,” his dad said to them. “I’m serious, grab everything, drop it in your suitcases, and let’s fly out of here. Four minutes. If we’re late, we’ll be stuck waiting for several hours for runway time and the storm could come in early.”

Mindy and Tami took off to the room they shared, Chase turned to go to his. Then he realized something was wrong. Baxter hadn’t met him at the door. Baxter always met him.

“Where’s Baxter?” Chase muttered, looking around and checking his pocket for the dog collar Tami had given him.

“Just get your bags packed,” his dad said.

Chase didn’t want to piss his dad off, but instead of going to his room, he darted past his dad to find his mom.

She was rushing around the room, tossing their clothes into the open suitcase.

“Where’s Baxter, Mom?” he asked.

His mom had just tossed a handful of clothes toward the bed and she froze as if the question rolled around her head. She stood there for one second and then her eyes widened with worry. “Crap!” She ran out the bedroom door.

“What?” Chase asked, running after her.

“I let him outside to potty and was standing out there watching, then your dad called to tell me how soon we had to go and I completely forgot him.” She ran past his dad.

“Are we packed?” his dad asked his mom.

His mom ignored him and opened the back door and ran out on the porch. “Baxter?” she called. “Come here, boy!” When the dog didn’t come running, she took off down the porch.

Chase followed and started calling his dog.

“What is it?” his dad asked, stepping out on the back porch.

“I let Baxter out and forgot about him.” His mom ran from one side of the property to the other calling the dog.

Chase took off toward the woods, worried Baxter had chased a rabbit or something. The dog wasn’t one to run off, but if a small animal showed up, he’d probably give chase on pure instinct.

“Chase?” his father called out. “You go pack, I’ll see if I can find Baxter. You, too, Amy.”

Chase wanted to argue that his dog was ten times more important than packing, but he saw the expression on his dad’s face and knew he meant business.

As he walked back into the cabin, listening to his dad call out Baxter’s name, Mindy ran right into him. “What’s wrong? Is Baxter missing?”

“Yeah,” Chase said, frowning.

“Crap!” Mindy said. “How did he get out?”

“I did it.” His mom stepped in behind him. “I’m so sorry, Chase,” she said, guilt lacing her voice. While Baxter was the family pet, the black Lab had picked Chase as his person the moment they’d brought him home from the shelter, where his previous owner had just dumped him off.

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