AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
KOBO / APPLE BOOKS
Nate spotted a couple he knew stepping out of the dance hall for some fresh air and he took Keely’s hand to avoid having to talk to anyone else. He wanted her all to himself a little while longer. “Want to walk down by the creek?”
“Sure.” Nodding, she followed him out of the back of the parking lot toward the long slope that led to the water.
The path was dark away from the white lights so Nate took his time picking their way down the hill.
“And to be clear, I am grateful for the chances I’ve had to show what I can do this summer. I just resent getting hurt when it finally felt like I might be making an impression.” Stepping around a sharp-edged rock, he reached back to make sure Keely navigated it too. “But I didn’t ask you out to dinner so I could grouse about what’s going on with me.”
“You didn’t?” He could hear the smile in her voice even though he couldn’t see her expression anymore as the darkness expanded around them.
“Definitely not.” He tugged her toward a clearing between the tree branches where a patch of moonlight shone on the creek bank.
Some summers the water dried up completely, but it still ran now, making a soft gurgle as it spilled over a span of muddy sticks and leaves.
“Well if you’re trying to glean tips on tomato planting, you’ve come to the wrong place because I know exactly nothing about growing vegetables.” She joined him on the soft earth above the creek, her sandals glimmering in the pale glow of the moon.
“Somehow I doubt that.” He remembered that she had a vegetable garden outside the farmhouse kitchen when they were still in high school, a task that had made her seem light years older than him at the time. But no doubt she’d only done it to ensure she and Alexis got fed on the days her father was too compromised to work or shop. “But I wasn’t expecting you to be my agricultural resource either.”
He still held her hand from when he’d helped her down the bank. He folded it in his now and felt his pulse quicken from being next to her. Alone. The perfect distraction from his concerns about the future, a chance to resolve their past.
“No?” She peered at him sideways, her shoulder just an inch or two from his while the frogs and crickets made their own night music.
Turning, he faced her. Above them, the sounds of a well-loved bluegrass song made the crowd shout in appreciation. His eyes had adjusted enough to the dim light that he could see Keely now, her dark eyes searching his.
Her lips temptingly close.
“No.” He cupped her chin in his good hand, savoring the softness of her skin. The light floral scent of her hair. “I asked you here because I can’t get that kiss out of my mind.”
Breath catching, her lashes fluttered. “Neither can I,” she admitted, her voice a whisper of sound that still managed to reverberate through him as if she’d shouted.
He swiped his thumb back and forth along her cheek, then trailed it down to the fullness of her lower lip, wanting her so much he ached.
Because he remembered how good it could be between them? Or because that kiss had felt like a new beginning? A first time all over again?
He shut down his thoughts and let himself feel, slanting his lips over hers to take a slow, thorough taste. The sweetness hit his veins harder than any whiskey shot, firing through his nerve endings and sizzling over his skin.
Sensation rocked him. He deepened the kiss, wrapping his arm around her to pull her fully against him. The feel of her breasts through the gauzy top would be enough to rattle any man’s thinking, and he had to suppress a growl of primal hunger that he had no business feeling during a simple kiss.
He could lose himself here, in this woman. In this hot night and hotter kiss. Just for one more minute, he let the tantalizing feel of her narrow hips in a frayed denim skirt wreak havoc on him, ratcheting up the temperature between them to something that would singe the eyelashes if they didn’t break apart soon.
Pulling back, he broke the kiss abruptly, ripping away like a bandage since he couldn’t have worked up the resolve to part from her otherwise. Now, breathing in gulps of the humid night air, he clenched and unclenched the fingers of his good hand where he’d wound up clutching the back of her blouse. Realizing it, he let go completely, willing the hunger for her
back into submission.
“This is crazy,” she whispered, but she sounded perplexed by it more than upset.
He didn’t know what he would have done if he was alone in this firestorm of sensations.
“Maybe. Maybe not.” He stepped back an inch and blinked to clear his vision of her blond waves turned white in the moonlight.
Between the tousled curls and pale, flawless skin surrounded by the dark leaves and twisting branches of old live oaks, she looked like a storybook princess.
“It makes no sense.” She shook her head slowly as she tipped a shoulder against the rough bark of the tree closest to her. “We’ve done this before, and the aftermath was too painful for us to make the same mistakes.”
“Who says we would be? Making the same mistakes, that is?”
He reached overhead to rest his splint on a low-hanging branch. “Last time, it all fell apart because I got drafted a year earlier than we thought it would happen.”
She wrapped her arms around herself as she shuffled a foot around a tree root. “No, it fell apart when you broke your promise to graduate college first.”
He frowned, wondering how she could see it that way. Even five years later. “You know that getting drafted is like getting called up—I have no control over when those things happen,” he reminded her. “I had to be ready to go when the opportunity came.”
And so did she, if she wanted to go with him. But she’d been adamant about breaking things off instead of trying to make it work while living apart for that last year when her sister was still in school.
At the top of the hill, the band finished another song and the crowd whistled and applauded. But down here by the water, the sound of the crickets and katydids was louder, wrapping him and Keely in a world of their own. A breeze rustled the leaves.
“And you were.” Her tone gentled, her arms relaxing at her sides. “You were ready then, and you’ll be prepared to go again when your hand is recovered. Maybe this crazy thing happening between us is just a delayed goodbye. We were both so upset five years ago that things ended too abruptly.
We didn’t get closure.”
“It doesn’t feel like goodbye to me.”