He shook his head and blinked a few times. “Gear.”
“What kind of gear?”
“Tent, lantern, kindling wood, sleeping bags.” He shrugged. “Basic camping supplies.”
“You’re going camping?”
He shook his head and shoved the bags wherever he could find any free space. The trunk and backseat were packed to the brim when I started this trip. And now I had an extra passenger, a goat…and apparently camping gear. “We’re going camping.”
“Ummm…I don’t camp.”
“Then Curry over here.” He pointed to the backseat. “Is sleeping in the car.” Chance closed the trunk, and his hands went to his hips. “What’s it going to be, Aubrey? Camping or he sleeps in the car alone.”
Apparently I was going camping. There’s a first time for everything.
“I take it you’ve done this before?” We’d only been at the campsite for a half hour, and Chance had already started a fire and was almost done pitching the first tent.
“Every summer with my family. My dad took my sister and I camping every year in the Outback. Best memories of my life. It wasn’t fake camping like this, either.”
“No numbered campsites, bathrooms and security. We did real camping. What about you? What soured you to camping?”
“Nothing. I’ve just never done it before.” Chance finished putting up the first tent and stepped back, admiring his handywork. “That tent’s huge.”
“Not the first time I’ve heard that,” he snickered.
I shook my head. “Why did you buy such big tents?”
“Damn it!” Chance yelled as he swatted a mosquito from his face. The boisterous sudden rant scared poor Esmerelda Snowflake, and she froze in place and proceeded to tip over and faint. We got a good laugh over that one.
Chance threw some more wood on the fire and sat down. “What about the other tent?” I asked, looking over the fire at him. I really hoped he wasn’t expecting me to attempt to figure that one out myself.
“What other tent?”
“You only bought one tent?”
He pulled a Pixy stick out from his back pocket and tilted his head back, shaking some of the sugary powder into his mouth. “Tent has two rooms. There’s a divider. You and your son can sleep on one side. I’ll sleep on the other.”
I didn’t really have a right to complain, seeing as he was doing all the work and paid for all of the supplies. So I didn’t, for a change.
We munched on what would normally be a month’s supply of carbs for me and sat around the campfire. Chance peeled a stick with a pocketknife and popped a marshmallow on the end before offering it to me. He really was good at this stuff.
“So, I’ll be sharing a tent with you tonight, we adopted a pet together, and I don’t even know what you do for a living?”
“I guess you can say I’m retired.”
“Retired?” At what? Twenty-six, twenty-seven?”
“Twenty-eight,” he corrected.
“Oh. Well that makes it better.” It was dark, even with the light of the fire. I lifted my roasted marshmallow to check it. The color was browned nicely on one side, the other side was still white. “So what did you retire from?”
“You played professionally?”
“In Australia. Yes. Well, not for long.”
“It couldn’t be repaired?”
“I had a few surgeries. But it tore again.”
“I’m sorry. How long did you get to play for?”
“One game? You mean you tore it in your first professional game?”
“I did. First and last professional game, both on the same day.”
“How long ago was that?”
“I stayed on the roster for my three-year contract. Had a few surgeries…never really could make it back to the level I needed to be at. Retired at twenty-four.”
“Wow. That sucks.”
“But what do you do now?”
“I still get royalties, so I don’t have to work a nine to five or anything. But I spend my days making junk art.”
“Some people call it recycled art.”
“I went to an exhibit like that at the Guggenheim. I loved it. I’d love to see your work sometime.”
He nodded. Very noncommittal.
“Can I be nosey?”
“You mean more nosey?”
“You’re the one who told me to get to know you. Before you made me crash into poor Esmerelda Snowflake, that is.”
“You didn’t even crash into that thing. And his name is not Esmerelda Snowflake.”
My marshmallow was on fire. I blew on it, then slipped it off the stick and took a bite. It was almost liquefied. “Mmmmm.”
I noticed Chance was watching me intently. “You want a bite?”
He shook his head slowly.
“Why not? You’re the sugar addict.”
“I get more enjoyment out of watching you eat it than I would eating it myself.” He swallowed. The sight of his throat working made me warm, and it had nothing to do with the fire.
“Anyway. How can you be living off royalties if your contract was only three years?”
He looked away. “Posters and stuff.”
“Posters? You mean of you?”
“Haven’t we talked about me enough? Harry’s been quiet today, hasn’t he?”
“Not a chance, Cocky. You blew me off once, and I let you off the hook.”
Turned out, I wasn’t the only one that thought Chance Bateman was ridiculously hot. Even years after retiring from professional sports, legions of women in Australia were still keeping his poster and jersey sales alive enough for him to live off of. There was something very endearing about him being a little embarrassed of the whole thing.
After a few more hours of sitting around the campfire, we decided to call it a night. Chance set up my sleeping bag for me and then zipped the divider of our two-room tent down. He left me with the lantern, so I could change first.
My clothes smelled like campfire, so I stripped everything off. There was something exciting about standing naked with only a flimsy piece of nylon between us. I might have lingered an extra minute before I put my bra and panties back on. When I was all done, I unzipped the corner of the tent and handed the lantern to Chance.
He gave me a sly grin and zipped the divider back into place. My side of the tent went dark, but as I climbed into my sleeping bag, I realized I could now see everything on his side. It was a shadow, but a very detailed shadow.
He was facing me, standing very still. I wasn’t certain, but it felt like he was looking right at me. It was impossible to actually see me through the vinyl divider, but I sensed his eyes on me nonetheless. He reached down to the hem of his shirt and slowly lifted it over his head. The shadow of his body was broad at the shoulders but tapered to a narrow waist. Even though I couldn’t see the detail, I imagined what I knew was there. The ridges of his muscular abs, the hard plains of that carved V. My mouth was suddenly dry.