Beauty Becomes You (Beauty 4) - Page 12

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“You should ask her out,” he finally said. “Even if it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll have given it a chance. It’s better than not living.”

The other man studied him. “That sounds like the voice of experience.”

“It is, and you were one of the people who helped bring me back. I owe you for that.”

Jeremy clapped him on the shoulder. “Then come to work for me. A permanent position. The board will approve it in a heartbeat.”

Ah, it seemed they’d arrived at the hard sell portion of the evening. What the hell, he’d known what his answer would be. Teaching was too damn fun. So was living, he had found.

He took a swig of the expensive liquor. It went down smooth. “Then I accept.”

CHAPTER FIVE

Feeling frantic and dizzy with worry, Erin dialed and redialed Blake’s cell phone. He wasn’t picking up at home either, but she took a chance that he’d fallen asleep quickly. The cab fare was thirty dollars just to get from her apartment to his empty, dark house. Damn. The Faculty Ball had ended at eleven and it was already midnight, so where was he? She had a flash of panic. What if he were hurt? What if he’d had something to drink and he’d been driving and… no. Calm down. That was the kind of thing that happened in movies, like in An Affair to Remember. Blake was fine. If he did drink, he was probably waiting somewhere until he sobered up enough to drive.

His office, she realized. He might even be there to finish up paperwork or clear out his books. It was the type of thing he might do, avoiding socializing under the pretense of some work task. Especially if things had gone poorly. Damn, now she was worried about that too. Her worry was strung up tight like the string of a bow, pulled back and ready to fire. If only she had a damn target.

She returned to the waiting cab and shut the door. “Campus, please.”

“You got it.”

The fare ticked higher as they retraced their steps back toward the university. She’d check the office. He had to be there. Because if he wasn’t, she had no idea where he could be, and she had no other plan.

“Any chance you guys go out of town?” she asked the cab driver.

“Sure. Where you headed?” When she told him the name of her hometown, he plugged it into his GPS. “That’d be a flat rate trip. Looks like $450 to get you there.”

She almost groaned. Four hundred dollars? Her bank account had that much—but barely. She’d wipe it clean and have nothing left to fix her car with when she got back.

When they arrived at the campus checkpoint, she hurriedly paid him, hesitantly adding a tip from her meager stash. If she ended up taking the bus, that would deplete her cash reserves entirely, and it would be tomorrow by the time she arrived. The cab drove away, leaving her in a cloud of smog. She didn’t have a ride to the bus station now either. She was running out of options.

The buildings appeared deserted as she walked quickly by. Moonlight bounced off the pale stone surfaces. She had been here a few times at night for study groups, but now, after the summer semester had ended, no one lingered. She had no idea where on campus the Faculty Ball was being held, but that was probably for the best. Even desperate, she knew better than to crash a party and potentially expose their relationship.

The wide metal doors she normally used to get inside that building were locked. She circled around and found a side door open. Pushing it open, she blinked into the darkness. It didn’t take long to figure out that his office was also dark, and empty. He wasn’t here. It had been a thin hope anyway.

Feeling a knot of fear for her mother, she wandered outside and sat down on a bench. The grounds were picturesque on the historical campus. Gorgeous lawns and famous statues. She didn’t see any of it. Ancient oak trees and architectural features blurred in front of her.

This was her nightmare. Knowing her mother needed her and being unable to get there. Three hundred miles felt a continent away. And even once she arrived, she wouldn’t be able to do anything useful. She wouldn’t be able to fix her mom’s heart. She wouldn’t be able to pay the medical bills. Useless.

Helpless.

A trill of laughter from around the corner caught her attention. Then a male voice answered. Damn, she recognized that voice. Wiping her eyes, she sat up straighter. Please, let him walk past. Tonight luck had abandoned her completely. Her old boyfriend Doug wandered nearer, half dragging an unsteady girl. Other voices bounced off the walls farther away, and she knew they were his friends. Doug always preferred to travel with a group, even when he was with his girlfriend—which had been her, once upon a time.

“Erin? Is that you?”

Damn. She tried to keep her voice from wavering. “Hey. What’s up?”

“What’s up is I’m happy to see you. Goddamn, Erin Raider.” He sounded genuinely happy to see her, and not even drunk. She wondered if he had drawn the designated driver short stick. He turned to the girl on his arm. “Go join the others. I’ll catch up in a minute.” She wandered in the direction of the voices, her stilettos sticking in the lawn.

Knowledge pierced Erin’s worried haze. “Wait, what are you doing here?” she asked Doug. “Don’t tell me you came back for grad school?”

He snorted. “Nah. It’s one of my friend’s brother’s birthday so we hit the bars nearby. I’m just along to keep the little kiddos from hurting themselves.”

From somewhere, she found the levity to tease him. “You’re the chaperone? What is this world coming to?”

“That’s what I said, but according to them, I’ve lost my edge. I’m all responsible and grown up and boring now.”

“Welcome to the club,” she said dryly.


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