Travis Walker made women’s panties disappear.
On most nights, anyway.
Tonight, sitting on a wooden stool set upon the stage at Catfish Creek High School’s conference center, only one woman was on his mind. His fingers strummed over the strings of the guitar, mouth rested near the microphone, and after he sang the final two lines of the chorus—I wanna kiss you under the moonlight. And love you ‘til the sun comes up—the applause from the crowd reopened his eyes.
Sparkling string lights and masquerade masks hung from the ceiling above him, reminding him that he wasn’t surrounded by thousands of his typical screaming and wild fans. In his Texas hometown, he stared out at teachers, old friends, and classmates, all dressed in formal wear and masquerade masks.
From his seat in the spotlight, he recalled playing for smaller crowds on this very stage back in high school. Those had been some of the happiest days of his life. Now, fresh off his last world tour, he realized he loved that scene, too. The energy of a smaller crowd, who knew him personally, and a larger crowd, who thought they were in love with him, was so different he couldn’t compare the two, but admittedly, he missed the intimacy that came from a smaller venue.
Done with his song, and with the crowd quieting, he slid the guitar strap over his head and handed the instrument back to a member of the band that’d been hired to play at Catfish Creek High School’s ten-year reunion. When he jumped off the stage, he sighed in relief, finding that all the cell phones pointed in his direction were now put away, and the flashing lights were gone.
That’s when he set his focus on what mattered tonight: finding her. Rae Evans—the muse behind the song he sang tonight, Moonlight.
He scanned the crowd overtop the decorated tables with their gold chairs, but the beauty had escaped him somehow. He recognized Annie Flowers, the librarian, who gave him a little wave, and Christopher Christianson, the principal, who was grabbing a drink from the bar. Travis could have sworn he spotted Rae entering the masquerade ball when he began his song. Desperation now clawed at his chest.
Determined to find her, he moved farther into the crowd, just as his cell vibrated in his pocket. Knowing exactly who it’d be, and that he couldn’t ignore the call, he reached for his phone and then frowned at the text from his manager, Scott Price.
Awesome job. The video is already up on YouTube. Fans are loving it. The mask was a nice touch. Don’t miss your flight in the a.m.
Travis shifted the black masquerade mask around his eyes, and the muscles along his shoulders tightened with the reminder of the weight they carried; of the need for him to always be on point, and the fact that nothing, not even his high school reunion, was sacred anymore.
Life had changed dramatically since the last time Travis stepped foot in the conference center. But he didn’t want to think about the shit weighing on him, so he fired off a response—I’ll be on it—then tucked his cell phone back into his pocket.
He had tonight to fix everything that was wrong with his life, and he wouldn’t waste it.
In the eyes of his manager, Travis had come to the reunion to put on a show and to look real to his fans. But Travis hadn’t come for the publicity; he had come for one very good reason: to find his anchor—the woman who stopped his world from spinning wildly out of control.
Lately, in a sea of chaos, he’d finally stopped drowning and saw a way back to the happiness he once had. That happiness had started with Rae, and surely, she was his way to find himself again.
One touch. One taste. He wanted to remember what that happiness felt like.
Again, he searched the crowd, ignoring the way some men glowered at him, and some women batted their lashes. Rae. That’s whom he’d come here to see tonight. Only her.
The band behind him started playing another ballad, and that’s when he found her, staring right at him from across the room. She wore a sleek, black, strapless gown around her slender figure with matching long, black gloves.
His muscles surged with adrenaline, and he went to move toward her when a hard voice came from behind him.
“Karly wants you to play another song.”
Travis slowly glanced over his shoulder to find the biggest asshole in Catfish Creek High School history, Jason, a blond-haired, slender, one-time big shot. Rae was best friends with Kate, and Kate had loved—and later married and divorced—the dipshit behind him.
Times had changed.
Travis didn’t owe Jason anything now, and he certainly didn’t owe the reunion’s event planner, Karly, shit. “You can tell Karly that I told her I’d play one song, and that’s exactly what I did. Bother me again, and we’ll have a problem.”
Jason didn’t make a move or say a word in rebuttal. Once a coward, always a coward.
Refocused on the only person who mattered tonight, and pulled by the energy only Rae conjured, Travis stretched out his fingers, shedding his frustrations as he moved with purpose through the crowd. Her pretty, hazel eyes surrounded by dark makeup followed his every move, and she yanked him forward with a simple look.
She’d always been a pretty girl, but she’d grown into a blindingly beautiful and stunning woman. Her gown fit her like a glove. A gold filigree mask somehow made the creaminess of her skin appear richer. She wore her shoulder-length, brown hair in big waves framing her round face.
Tonight, she didn’t look so fresh-faced and innocent. She looked sexy as hell, and just the sight of her again caused Travis’s cock to swell eagerly.
While he’d talked to her through email, text, and the occasional late-night, drunk phone call every birthday and Christmas over the last ten years, he hadn’t seen her. Not since that day on his parents’ porch. Sure, he’d kept an eye on her through the Catfish Creek Chronicle when they featured her for her charity work, and also on the website for the vet clinic she owned. But after he’d walked the path that led away from her, he’d never found his way back. Life got busy. New friends were found. Fame overtook him.
Now, he was…home.
When he finally reached her, the air between them felt charged. “Rae,” he said.
Her eyes warmed. Dark, red-painted lips curved. “Travis.”
Christ, he remembered how those lips tasted. How she tasted—every goddamn inch of her.
Beneath her mask, those pretty eyes now turned a little suspicious. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming to the reunion?”
Perhaps he should have called, but… “I wanted to surprise you.” Because there were important reasons he returned to his hometown, ones that he didn’t want her to know about. Yet.
It all began with an article in the Catfish Creek Chronicle.
Dr. Rae Evans feels she’s done what was needed to help the animals in Catfish Creek, and she’s ready to begin a new journey. She’s looking to open another clinic in one of the neighboring towns.
At twenty-eight years old, she’d achieved what she hoped to do by thirty, and that article reminded him of the guy he used to be when she’d first made those plans. He wasn’t the same man who left Catfish Creek all those years ago, and he didn’t know when exactly he lost himself. While Rae had likely found all the happiness she wanted in her success, he simply wanted to find his way back to the carefree guy he once was.
To do that, he had to come back to the place where he was the happiest. He had to come back to her. “But to tell you why I wanted to surprise you, I need to tell you a story.” He offered his hand. “How about we dance, and I’ll share it.”
For a second, he thought she might refuse him. She simply stared at his hand.
When her eyes met his again, and she slowly slid her palm into his, the tightening in his chest eased. He closed his fingers around hers and sensed her soften, making him smile.
Reliving that infectious energy she carried, he led her into the middle of the dance floor, then he spun her around and pulled her to him, nice and close, sliding his hand across her lower back.
She laughed softly, eyes twinkling behind her mask. “You’ve still got the moves, I see.”
“My moves will never fail me.” He grinned.
The band played the perfect song. Something a little sexy and slow, keeping her hips swaying perfectly with his. He did nothing to shield his erection, but one look into her eyes told him that was all right. With her breasts pressed against his chest, her cheeks a little pink now, he noticed the heat in the depths of her gaze. He’d recognize it anywhere. That fire felt like it belonged to him—always had, always would. Yet in the past, she’d shy away from that desire. Now, he noted how she firmly held his gaze, telling him she wasn’t the young lover he once had.
“How long are you staying in town?” she asked, in an obvious attempt to divert their attention away from his cock.
“Just tonight.” He stroked his thumb over the back of her hand, keeping her as close as he could, inhaling her flowery scent that had faded from his memory. “I fly out bright and early in the morning.”
“Only tonight?” She shot him a questioning glance. “You came all the way here from New York just for the reunion?”
“You seem surprised.”
She shrugged, seemingly unaffected when another couple bumped into her, her interest obviously centered on him. “Seems like a long way to come for only a few hours.”
A very good point, indeed. “Well, you see, that brings us to my story.” He sent her out, twirling her around before bringing her in close again and returning the smile she gave him. “But I think we need to go back even further for you to truly understand.”
“Go on,” she said, watching him closely.
He paused, collecting his thoughts, then he began. “You’ll never hear me complain about my life. I have far more than I probably deserve.”
“That’s a good thing,” she said firmly, even as a playful grin teased her lips. “You have a pretty amazing life, and you’d better not complain to me about all the fabulous trips you get to take around the world, or you might lose a tooth.”
He chuckled but leaned in, calling her out. “And how do you know so much about my life? Reading up on me?”
“A little,” she admitted.
That’s what he liked most about Rae. She was honest, through and through. The fact that she followed his life could bite him in the ass later, but at this point, there was no going back, so he pushed the conversation along. “So, then you know that I have a very good life. I travel. I stay in fancy hotels. I eat at amazing restaurants. I never have to lift a finger. I have everything that anyone should want.”
Her eyes searched his. “But it’s not the life you want?”
Of course, she caught on. He didn’t expect otherwise. That’s why he’d come to the reunion—to be with someone who truly knew him. “It’s not that I don’t want the life I live,” he explained gently. “It’s that something is missing. Something very important.”
“The guy I used to be.”
She began nibbling her lip like she used to do in high school when she became confused. “What do you mean?”
“I can have anything I want, Rae. There is nothing that’s not available to me.” He slid his hand along her spine, pulling her in closer, leaving no room between them. “But the guy I was when we were together…I don’t know him anymore.”
Her eyes softened, and her voice grew quiet. “That’s really kinda sad, Travis.”
“It is what it is.” He shrugged, not wanting to get stuck on the things he couldn’t change. “My manager told me that I’d been invited to the reunion and saw it as a business opportunity. But I saw it as a personal one.”
The song shifted to something faster, and the crowd began to fill the dance floor, bumping into his back. He refused to let her go, holding her tightly against him. “Do you want to know the real reason I came to the reunion tonight?”
“Yes,” she said, a little breathlessly.
“I came to relive the past, Rae.” He released her hand, wrapping his other arm around her and bringing his mouth close to hers. “That’s the only reason I’m here. I want to remember what it’s like to be with a woman who knows the real me.” He was encouraged by her shiver. An involuntary movement that spoke of her willingness to give him all that he wanted and more.
Hot and hard, he dropped his head into her neck, inhaled the subtle hints of her flowery perfume, and said into her ear, “We have a chance that many people don’t get. To go back and feel what we felt before.” He dragged his nose across her neck in the way he knew she liked, feeling her quiver under his hands. “Tomorrow, our lives will return to normal. Nothing will have changed. You’ll live here, entirely focused on your clinic and your life, and I’ll live mine in New York. Tonight’s our one free pass to dip into the past, and I want to take it. Because tonight, Rae”—he brushed his lips across her neck, and a soft moan escaped her mouth as he murmured—“I want one more taste of you.”
She gasped and stepped back, blinking rapidly. “I…sorry, excuse me. I need to get some air.” Then those pretty pink cheeks and wide, excited eyes were gone, her dress trailing behind her as she ran for the door.
Travis shoved his hands into the pockets of his suit and grinned. He didn’t mind hunting her, it sweetened his reward.