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When the day of their symphony outing arrived, Beth's nerves were stretched as taut as the strings on her cello. She fussed over her hair and wished she had learned more tricks for applying make-up. Unfortunately, it was too late now to learn what most females learned as teenagers.
At least she still had the subtly flattering formal dress she had worn when performing with the college symphony. It fit as easily as the memories that swept over her when she stepped into the auditorium where the symphony was performing.
She breathed in the smell of wood and resin, barely noticeable to a casual concert-goer. However, the memory of the slightly sticky feel of the resin she sparingly swept down the strings of her cello bow when she played tingled in her fingertips.
In the years she had been pursuing a business that could support the need for a house and healthy food in her refrigerator, Beth's time with her cello dwindled. Now she only occasionally brushed the dust gently from its strings and sat down with her once-constant companion.
This night unleashed the emotions making music once roused in her.

At a time when Beth desperately wanted to impress her handsome escort with her sophistication, she often found tears welling in her eyes as the orchestra played pieces she remembered well.
Rather than seem embarrassed by her behavior, Collin simply smiled and covered her hand with his.
After the performance, Collin cupped her elbow and steered her backstage to meet the members of the orchestra. Delighted, Beth was soon caught up in the world she had reveled in during her high school and college years.

When the principle cellist invited them to celebrate the performance with coffee and dessert at a local restaurant, Beth couldn't think of a more fitting highlight to their evening. With Collin as her escort, the evening had been perfect.

Collin watched the glow in Beth's eyes as she talked to members of the orchestra. The delicate lavender color of her formal gown and the diamond clips in the upswept curls of her hair enhanced her physical beauty. However, it was the love of music sparkling in her conversation that really captured Collin's attention.

Why had she neglected music? he wondered. Surely she could carve out time for something she so clearly loved in addition to running a restaurant.

Well, he would make sure their time together included the orchestra she enjoyed so much. And he did intend to spend time with Beth, Collin realized. Though this was their first actual date, it seemed he had known her forever.

Inwardly, Collin took a step back. Such fanciful thoughts for a man whose life was devoted to a job requiring deadly focus and split second decision-making.
The vibration of the cell phone in his pocket clearly reminded Collin of that job. Caller ID showed this interruption was a serious one.

He excused himself and went to the lobby to take the call. His team leader offered few details but to report ASAP.
Collin returned to the table and apologized to Beth. "Something's come up and I need to go."
He paused and frowned, irritated a call-out was pulling him away from the most pleasant evening he had enjoyed in recent memory. "I'm so sorry."
The sparkle in Beth's eyes turned to worry. "Is everything alright?"
If everything was alright, the SWAT team wouldn't be activated. But Collin couldn't say that. He couldn't destroy Beth's innocent concern. "One of the drawbacks of my job is being on call 24/7."
"Oh." Beth rose to her feet.
The scent of her flowery shampoo filled Collin's senses and sizzled through his body. She stood close enough he would only have to take a step forward to fold her in his arms. To protect her from the angry and distraught and plainly malevolent people he met every day on his job.
"Do you mind driving my truck back to Halo after I stop at the station? I won't have time to make the trip"
Doubtful hesitation crinkled across Beth's face. "If you don't mind."
"I mind leaving you without a proper escort home."
Collin drove quickly to the station and pulled into a parking spot. Then he cupped Beth's face between his hands and kissed her gently. As the seconds ticked away, his cell phone vibrated again.
He had to leave. He allowed one more moment of regret, then said goodnight, and strode inside to confront whatever emergency was once again claiming his life.
Irritation swirled through Collin as he entered the station. Beth was the first woman who had captured his attention for a very long time, and he had to cut short their date for a call-out. This had better be good.
A mass of organized chaos greeted Collin.
"About time you showed up, O'Shea." His team leader frowned. "We've got a town blowing up. We're sending all the manpower we can spare."
"What town?" Collin shrugged into his camouflage jacket.
Collin froze as a crystal clear image of Beth lodged in his mind. She was driving straight into a disaster.

(Excerpt copyright Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel.)

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