Meant for Me

Chapter One

Camp Shawnee, Pennsylvania

When Camp Shawnee’s gates swung open on visitor’s day, an impressive mix of Navigators, Escalades, and BMW SUVs, with the occasional Lexus and Jaguar thrown in, waited like self-satisfied toads. On steroids. But one bold and brash motorcyclist foiled the camp administrator’s plan for an orderly check-in by roaring up the drive. The bad-ass Harley rocketed to the front of the line before the more traditional vehicles got their butts in gear.

Seated at the registration table with three other camp counselors, swim instructor Nikki Smith watched the V-Rod zip through the electronic gates, cross the paved parking lot, and roll to a stop beside the freshly-painted bicycle stand.

The muscular rider planted his feet on the ground and pulled his helmet off, then pushed his longish brown hair off his forehead. He looked around, frowning at the perfect setting of lake, cabins, and rolling hills.

“Find out who that delinquent is and what he wants. I’ll alert security.” Clipping his cordless headset in place, Dennis Rackham, camp administrator, employed his stern, no-nonsense face and voice. He would totally be scowling about now, if not for fear of making a bad impression on the well-heeled parents entering the meticulous campgrounds, eager to visit their kids.

The three college-aged counselors, with identical blonde flippy hair and pink lip gloss, exchanged glances. They each waited to see if one of the others would step up first. Before they died of old age while waiting for a volunteer, Nikki stood and smoothed out her khaki uniform shorts.

“I’ll go.” Tossing her French braid off her shoulder, she headed for Biker Boy. He’d turned in their general direction with his arms crossed over his impressive chest. Just daring someone to approach him. Nikki never passed up a dare.

The full-frontal view of Biker Boy made her teenaged-heart beat faster. He looked about her age, but with enough swagger to suggest more confidence than most eighteen-year-old guys could muster. The wide shoulders and muscular arms testified to the kind of give-it-all-you’ve got physical fitness she admired. Clearly not a slacker who spent his time zoned out playing video games or watching television.

His dark, confident gaze heated up as it travelled her full length, before he broke into an appreciative grin. With dimples, no less. “What? Are you like a hall monitor, here to take me to the principal’s office?”

She suppressed the smile that threatened to spread across her face. Had he planned to ruffle old Dennis’s feathers, or did he not care that he’d failed First Impressions 101? She gestured for him to step with her to the registration area. “I’m the welcoming committee for Camp Shawnee, where we build better bodies and better minds today for a better tomorrow.”

A raised eyebrow mocked her scripted propaganda. She couldn’t blame him for that. Sometimes Camp Shawnee was just a little too proud of its curriculum, goals, reputation, and price tag for her taste, but hey, they paid well. That’s all she cared about. “Are you here to visit one of our campers?”

“Sure am.” His answer surprised her into a misstep that sent her tripping toward the dirt path. With lightning reflexes, he reached out and caught her by the waist. “My brother’s been banished here for the summer.”

The grip of his arms around her waist confirmed their rock-solid strength. And the chest pressing into her back was as sturdy as a brick wall. Oh, boy. She studiously stepped away. “Ensconced,” she corrected. “Not banished.”

“Same thing. At our house, it’s Dad’s way or the highway.”

“Well, I’m sure your brother is enjoying his stay.”

“How can you be sure?”

She shrugged. “Most of the kids do. It’s a pretty cushy place to be… banished. There’s something for everyone, from tubing to zip-lining, from rock-climbing to music appreciation, from crafts to computers. And they call the accommodations ‘cabins,’ but the only cabin-esque thing about them is the spilt-log exterior.”

Before they reached the registration table where visitors were funneled into alphabetical lines, he stopped her with a hand on her arm. “What’s your role here?”

“Swim instructor, lifeguard, and fill-in cabin counselor when one of the regulars has a night off.”

He nodded, perusing her body once more. “You? In a swimsuit? No wonder the boys like it here.”

Dennis stood like a sourpuss sentry behind the table. “Well?” His tone hovered a tweak this side of belligerent. “What does he want?”

“He says he’s here to see his brother.”

The belligerence and barely masked distaste faded. He extended his hand. “Welcome to Camp Shawnee. Are you on the visitor’s list for today?”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“What’s your brother’s name?”

“Elliott Grayson.”

Dennis’s sour-lemon expression relaxed a notch, indicating his recognition of the name and his natural inclination to suck up. “Your name?”

“Mitch Grayson. Might be listed as Mitchell.”

Dennis made a slow search of the list, but it was all for show. Even reading upside down, Nikki spied Mitch’s name on the roster next to Elliott’s.

“We’ll need to see some ID.”

Mitch passed over his driver’s license. When Dennis confirmed its validity, he spoke into the headset, asking for Elliot to be sent up. He handed Mitch a plastic visitor’s pass and a long list of rules and instructions. Mitch stuffed all of them in his back pocket without a glance.

A few minutes later, the awkward ten-year-old in oversized T-shirt, baggy shorts, and untied sneakers came out of the rec building, dragging his feet until he spotted his brother. “Mitch!” His wide grin with accompanying dimples confirmed that the two of them swam in the gene pool. “You came! I couldn’t believe it when they called my name. Is Mom with you?” He gazed around searching for other familiar faces, before dropping his voice. “Is Dad?”

“Just me, buddy.” Mitch and Elliott exchanged loose brotherly hugs. “I’ve got a surprise for you. A couple in fact.” With his arm looped across Elliot’s shoulders, he steered him away from registration. “Want to show me around? Where’s your cabin?” Mitch turned and winked at Nikki before disappearing down the wooded path.

Nikki looked her fill, pleased to see that his toned butt lived up to the rest of him. Tight enough to bounce a quarter off of, if she had the chance.

Mindy, one of the interchangeable counselors beside her, poked Nikki in the ribs. “Hey, quit drooling.”

“Why? That’s the last I’ll ever see of those buns of steel. Rich kid with rich parents. He’s way out of my social circle.” Nikki resumed her seat and turned to smile at the next set of parents waiting to be signed in.

Wiping perspiration off her forehead several hours later, she left her registration post to monitor one of the lunch tables. Entering the crowded, noisy mess hall, she spotted her assigned table and slipped into an empty chair.

While making small talk with the parents, she noticed Mitch and Elliot Grayson at the next table. The normally quiet Elliott kept up a constant flow of chatter with his brother. Mitch nodded and laughed, encouraging the boy to rattle on. Against her will, Nikki’s gaze strayed to Mitch too often and the over-confident hot-shot noticed, of course. He gave her a slow-smile that made her palms sweat.

Taking a bite of his hotdog, he threw back his head to laugh at something Elliott said, but the sound abruptly stopped, cut-off with a garbled, “Aack!”

Desperately, he tried to suck in air. His hands moved to his throat in the universal sign for choking. That quickly, he started turning blue.

Nikki leaped out of her chair before anyone else had noticed his distress. Coming up behind him, she punched him in the center of the back. That action failed to dislodge the chunk from his trachea.

“Stay calm! Let me help you.” Wrapping her arms around him, she clasped her hands in front of his abdomen and pulled back, once, twice, a third time before the chunk of hotdog shot out of his mouth. Gasping, he sagged forward, crashing to the floor and taking her with him.

Nikki inhaled a deep breath, waiting for his normal breathing pattern to return. Which it did, thank God, or she would have had to move on to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. All in the line of duty of course.

“Get the medic,” she ordered with her gaze on Mitch, assuming someone would obey.

After her initial reaction, the rush of adrenaline turned into sludge in her veins. Looking up, she saw that almost everyone in the dining hall had gathered around, gaping at her with open mouths.

One by one, they began to applaud.

motorcycleIf he’d died and gone to heaven, Mitch hoped God didn’t intend to remove the curvy angel from on top of him anytime soon.

Winded and collapsed on the floor like a worthless sack of crap, the only good things Mitch could fathom about his current position were the heavenly pair of tits pressed against his back and the female arms wrapped around him.

He’d have to open his eyes sometime, face the embarrassment, and give his Angel of Mercy her due. But first, the simple act of breathing required more of his attention than normal.

He could swear he’d seen glimmers of the bright shining light at the end of the tunnel by the time she’d looped her arms around him. Good old Dad might not mind if Mitch rode off into his final sunset, but he’d like to think Elliot and Mom would miss him.

And speaking of Elliot. The kid was probably freaking out in his own quiet way. Mitch rolled to his side, taking the female body with him.

“You all right?” Her warm breath teased his ear.

“Still kicking.” He turned his head to look at her over his shoulder. “Thanks to you.”

“Happy to help.”

Now that he was out of danger, other staff members swarmed around them. Someone pulled her away from him. Strong hands turned him to his back. Elliott tugged on his arm.

“Mitch! Mitch?”

“I’m okay, buddy.”

The disapproving asshole from registration leaned into view, pretending concern. “Uh, we’ll need you to fill out some paperwork as soon as you’re able.”

In the administrator’s cushy office, Mitch filled out the necessary forms, then posed for pictures the administrator insisted they shoot for the camp news bulletin. While smiling for the camera and shaking Mitch’s hand with gritted teeth, the man yammered on about Camp Shawnee’s safety record and the efficiency of the staff.

Mitch knew choking on his food had been his own damn fault, but he also knew who was responsible for saving his life. And so far, he hadn’t seen her get any credit for it. Hell, they’d stuck her in the corner along with a bunch of people who had played no role whatsoever in his survival.

“Maybe they’re all top notch,” he said, “but I believe it was the swim instructor’s efficiency that saved the day. Let’s get her up here to be in this next shot, too.”

“All of our counselors and instructors are trained in the Heimlich Maneuver,” Dennis the Uptight Administrator said, ready to take off again on his praise for the uninvolved.

The red-haired beauty in the corner shook her head, but Elliott, who’d stuck to Mitch like super glue ever since he’d been pulled off the floor, pressed the matter. “But Nikki’s the one who saved him.”

Mitch put his hand on his jaw as if thinking back. “That’s true, Elliott. None of the others rushed in to save my life, did they?”

With steam pouring out of his ears, Dennis motioned Nikki forward. When she joined them, Mitch slid his arm around her stiff shoulders.

Enjoying the feel of her under his arm, he kept her there as often as he could for the rest of the day. He only removed it when he took some private time out of earshot to reassure Elliott and explain about the changes that were happening at home.

Glossing over the gory details and sliding past the tricky points, he explained that their mom and dad were separating. Elliot would live with Mom and their grandfather. Dad would continue to live in their house. Mitch had bought a motorcycle and joined the Army. He’d leave for boot camp next week.

Elliott took most of the information in stride, relieved to know their ball-busting father would be out of their everyday lives. Happy about him and Mom living with Grandfather. Excited about the motorcycle. Worried about Mitch leaving.

“You’ll be fine, buddy,” Mitch reassured him. “I’ll come see you as often as I can, and we can text and call and write and stuff. I’d never leave if I thought you and Mom would have more problems with the old man.”

“It’s not that.” Elliott slugged him in the arm. “Grandpa won’t let Dad hurt me, but you could get hurt.”

There were no guarantees, but he wouldn’t pile any more crap on Elliott’s shoulders at the moment. “Nah, I’ll be fine.”

Elliott scoffed as well as any ten-year-old could. “Like you were today? You’d be a goner if Nikki hadn’t been there. She was like a guardian angel. She’s really pretty, too. And nice.”

“That she is.” Mitch admired her long legs as she came down the path toward them.

She handed Elliott the backpack he’d left in the Administrator’s office. “It’s time for you to prepare for swimming at five.”

“See you later, buddy. Take care.” Mitch exchanged hugs and backslaps with his brother, knowing he wouldn’t see him again for weeks.

After watching the boy trudge up the path, Nikki turned her warm brown eyes in Mitch’s direction. “It’s time for visitors to leave.”

“Walk me to my bike?” He held out his hand and she reluctantly took it.

As they moved toward the parking lot, he couldn’t think of anything monumental enough to say under the circumstances. “Thanks for saving my life today.”

“My pleasure.” She shrugged. “And my job.”

“It seems like there should be a better way of saying thank you.”

“Hmmm.” She pursed her lips while she chewed on the inside of her cheek. “You mean something more than a thank you card or flowers? How much is your life worth? Is it worth something pricey that I really-really want like a Dooney & Bourke purse or a new laptop? Or something more substantial that I really-really need like a college scholarship?”

“That’s more in the ballpark. I’ll see what I can do.” He liked that she joked about asking for what she wanted. Little did she know what he would do with the information. The card and flowers would be a snap. He’d turn the rest of the list over to his mom. Grinning, he wished he could be there to see her face when the gifts arrived. “Are you still in high school?

“I’m a senior. How about you?”

“Just graduated, going into the army.”

She squinted up at him, surprised. “Not college?”

He understood her reaction. College was the natural path for someone like him, but he’d decided not to take the expected route. Not if it meant giving in to his dad and following in his misguided footsteps. “It’s complicated.”

“Not for me. I plan to finish high school in the fall and start college classes in January. Even if I can’t go full time yet.”

“What do you want to be?”

“A doctor, if I can manage it.” Her brown eyes brightened with determination.

“You’ve got my vote.”

“When are you leaving for boot camp?”

“Ten days. Do you have any time off in the next couple of weeks?”

“No, sorry.” He interpreted the emotion that gleamed in her eyes as regret. “Since I need the money, and I’m a long way from home, I usually cover the rest of the staff’s day off requests.”

Stopping beside the Harley, he reached out with his index finger and followed her braid from her shoulder to the swell of her breast. “Where are you from, Angel?”

“Cincinnati. Do you ever get there?”

“Never have, but give me your phone number. I’ll give you a call if I ever do.”

She recited the number, and he saved it to his phone. Before he climbed onto the bike, he pulled her toward him. “I guess this is good-bye.” Slowly, he bent forward.

“Good luck.” Her fixed gaze held desire, hesitation, and hopes for a future he may never have. “Stay safe.”

“Thanks again for saving my life.” At a loss for words, he brushed his lips across hers.

She smiled sadly. “Don’t waste it. Be sure to live a good long time.”

“I’ll do my best, Angel.”

Mixed emotions tugged at him. Eager to be on his way now, but sorry to leave her behind. He pulled Nikki into his arms and held her. Soaking her up, imprinting her on his memory, he experienced a moment of peace. A shield against the battles that lay ahead.

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