Swept Away, Volume 1 by J. Haymore

Fifteen Months Later

The car comes to a stop in front of the marina, but instead of opening the door and getting out, I sit glued to the leather seat, gazing through the backseat window, my fingers curling into fists, then opening again, over and over.
Swept Away, Volume 1
Swept Away, Volume 1 by J. Haymore
I need to get out of this car. Venturing outside is nowhere near as scary as it was a year ago. The convenience-store robbery was a setback, but after that, I worked hard, and I got better. Therapy—lots of therapy—helped. I caught up with my required classes during the summer and went back to school for my senior year in the fall. I can leave home without having a panic attack now. And I’m a newly minted college grad—I even went to my graduation ceremony last month and had a great time. My best friend, Kyle, took me to a bar with a group of friends afterward, and we all got shit-faced drunk. It was a first for me, and it was fun. Real fun, like a girl my age should be having. I’m feeling normal again. Human again. This, though—this is different. This is not walking three blocks to a convenience store, or going out with friends. This is more. It’s more than more. It’s crazy. Beyond the sidewalk and a chain-link fence, boat masts sway gently to the cadence of the afternoon breeze against the backdrop of a clear blue Southern California sky. I unclench my fingers and grip the door handle, ready to open it and face whatever lies ahead, but my hand falls away when Juan opens the door. “Thanks,” I say. Juan is the driver who always comes for the car service whenever I need a ride somewhere. We’ve grown friendly over the past couple of years. “No problem.” Juan helps me out, then turns toward the trunk. “I’ll get your luggage.” I watch him unload my duffel and my laptop bag. All I need to do is ask, and Juan would take me home. He’d return me to the comfort and safety of my apartment, where I wouldn’t need to face boarding a fifty-foot boat or spending three weeks sailing across an ocean with four other people, three of them virtual strangers. Stop it! It’s my sister who scolds me in my head. You need this. Do it. That’s an order. Emily would have done it. She wouldn’t have hesitated for a second. And that’s what spurs me on, in spite of my clammy hands and the fact that my heart feels like it’s going to hammer out of my chest. “Have a great trip, Miss Jameson.” Juan hands me my laptop bag. “Thanks, Juan.” He gives me his kind smile, flashing bright white teeth. “I’ll see you next month when you get back.” “Yes. You definitely will.” There. That sounded strong and confident. I’ll be back in Los Angeles in just six weeks. What can happen in a mere six weeks? Juan walks back to the driver’s side and gets in. I grab the handles of my duffel bag, which is packed with everything I need for crossing an ocean on a sailboat, and heft it over my shoulder. I watch the car roll away, and when it disappears behind the apartment buildings that line the marina road, a part of me feels like my only lifeline has been severed. My breaths start to speed up. There’s a panic attack coming on, but I know how to control them. Most of the time. I grip the handles of my duffle and force myself to inhale and exhale slowly, turning my thoughts to simple, logical truths—You have lifelines right here, Tara. Literally and figuratively. You’re safe. Nothing bad is going to happen. My gaze turns to the marina basin. It’s low tide, so the concrete dock floats far below street level, giving a good view of all the slips and boats moored along its length. The Temptation, the catamaran we’ll be sailing to Hawaii, is at the very end of the dock. It stands out from all the other boats that lead up to it—it’s bigger, sleeker, sexier. It is brand new and state-of-the-art, from its computer systems to its rigging to its plush interior. A charter company based in Hawaii bought the catamaran a few months ago, and they’ve hired a captain to sail it from LA to Honolulu so they can use it to take tourists snorkeling and scuba diving on the reefs of Oahu. That’s where Kyle and I came in. A captain needs a crew, and this captain just happens to be sleeping with my best friend. I limp toward the dock gate. I stopped using my cane shortly after the convenience-store robbery, and my limp is noticeable, but it doesn’t elicit the looks of pity the cane did. It does make it awkward for me to walk downhill, though. Since it’s low tide, the ramp down to the dock is steep, but it’s also covered in a sandpapery substance, so I don’t give it a second thought. Until it’s too late. About halfway down, my right leg—the bad leg—steps forward, and my foot slips to the side. My leg crumples beneath my weight, and I go down, all flailing arms and legs and bags. I land hard on my side, grunting with the impact, and then lie there for a second, blinking, the wind knocked out of me. The ramp beneath me is slimy, as if someone dragged something over it that had been immersed in seawater for a year. I struggle up to a seated position and take stock of myself. A layer of green-and-black grime slicks my white capris. And judging by the soreness in my thigh and hip, I’m going to have a nice set of bruises to go with my scars later. I grind my teeth. Not two steps into this adventure, and I’ve already screwed up. Hopefully this isn’t an omen of things to come. And hopefully no one saw— “What the—?” Startled, I glance over my shoulder as the gate slams shut. The person who spoke is haloed by the sun, so it’s impossible to make out his features. He approaches me with long, sure strides, the ramp bouncing under his weight. I scramble to my feet, gathering everything up, hoping I didn’t break my laptop, ignoring the twinge in my leg. “Are you okay?” Worry underscores the smooth, masculine voice. Oh God—this is so embarrassing. The sight of me going down must have been spectacularly bad. “Can I help you?” “No, I’m good. I’m fine. Thanks. No problem. I just wasn’t paying attention.” Thrusting the strap of my duffle bag over my shoulder, I finally look at the stranger. “Than…ks.” The word fizzles away on my lips. This man is…wow. He’s got an oval face with sharply slanted cheekbones, and his full lips are a soft, kissable pink. His almost-black hair, brows, and lashes contrast with the lightness of his ocean-blue eyes, and a dark scruff shadows his strong jaw. I swallow hard, resisting the urge to look down at my muck-covered leg. His lips tighten as he studies me carefully, his gaze trailing over me like a cool breeze. He takes in my blond ponytail, my makeup-free face, my shirt with horizontal navy-blue stripes and the white capris. Well, as of a few seconds ago, they were white capris. My skin tingles everywhere he drinks me in with those eyes. God—I’ve separated myself from the world for too long. I’m getting carried away. He’s probably checking for broken limbs. “You’re Tara Jameson, right?” He sounds friendly. Easygoing. But his posture is stiff and alert, the energy shimmering around him nearly palpable. “I—” My voice breaks, and I clear my throat, shaking off the frozen feeling that’s come over me. He might have thought I was an idiot, flailing around on the ramp like that and then getting all tongue-tied, but enough is enough. I straighten my spine, taking in his tailored three-piece suit, the black wool offset by a white shirt, a gray tie, and silver cuff links. He’s completely GQ-hot, and he definitely doesn’t belong in a Southern California marina. “Yes. I’m Tara.” I drag my gaze back to his face and quirk up a brow. “And you’re…?” “Ethan Williams.” I connect the dots immediately—Ethan is the fifth member of the crew of the Temptation, the only crewmember I haven’t met before today. I don’t know anything about Ethan other than the fact that he and Nalani Jordan, our captain, met at the local yacht club. They started talking about Nalani’s plans to sail to Hawaii, and he volunteered to join the crew. He holds out his hand, and I grasp it. His hand is warm and dry, his fingers strong. “Good to finally meet you,” I say, sounding perfectly composed. Thank God. “Good to meet you too.” His lips curve into a smile that can only be described as luscious, and in some sort of primitive, instinctual reaction, my body roars to life. Heat rushes through me like I’ve just run a mile, blood pounds through my veins, and my skin prickles all over. Our handshake has lasted much longer than a handshake should. I give my hand a little tug, and he releases it. “You sure you’re okay?” “Yes.” I smile at him—a real smile, not one of those forceful turns of my lips I usually give to strangers. He probably doesn’t believe it, but I actually am okay. The way he looks at me is exhilarating, somehow. Most people see past me or through me. Or they stare at my limp, pity in their eyes. But Ethan is really looking at me. He draws in a quick breath, and blue heat flares in his eyes, but before I have time to figure out his expression, he looks away, clearing his throat and turning to my duffel. Surprise blooms in my chest...he seems as shaken by me as I am by him. But that’s crazy. He’s so out of my league. “I’ll take this for you.” He grasps its handles. “Oh. Okay. Thank you.” I try to brush some of the muck off me but only succeed in smearing it. I give Ethan a sheepish look and shrug. “Hopeless.” Yeah, I’m hopeless, all right. “Let’s get to the boat and get you changed,” he says. Moving his hand to the small of my back, he steers me around the wide slick of algae that covers this side of the ramp. The warmth of his fingers seeps through my shirt. There’s something strong and sure about his touch. Like he knows exactly where he wants to go. Where he wants to be. The sea breeze ruffles my wavy blond hair and blows strands of it out of the ponytail holder and into my face. The briny tang of harbor salt water washes over me. The boats around us stir restlessly in their slips, the ropes that tie them to the docks straining and creaking. Once we’re safely on the dock, Ethan drops his hand. Which is too bad, because I liked it there. I focus on masking my limp, but no amount of concentration will make it go away completely. What does Ethan think about it? I half expect him to ask if the fall hurt my leg, but he doesn’t say a word. We pass the other boats leading to the end of the dock where the Temptation floats like a crowning glory presiding over all the other inferior vessels. A large cabin spans the center of the Temptation, attaching the two long, sleek hulls that close into sharp wedges at the front, perfect for slicing through waves. Its black, rectangular windows contrast with the stark white of the rest of the deck area. A thick metal mast rises from the front and center of the cabin roof. When the sails are up, they’re enormous white billowing triangles that capture the wind’s power and propel the Temptation forward, giving the sensation of soaring just above the surface of the water on a smoothly pitching, silently speeding hovercraft. Everything about the cat is beautiful and modern. Its exterior is polished to a gleaming white shine, and its interior is brimming with polished mahogany and modern stainless steel. With its mechanized winches and radios, high-tech GPS, autopilot, and computers, the Temptation almost sails itself. For the next three weeks, this fifty-foot boat is going to be the source of everything we need for survival; it’s going to be the only thing separating the five of us from a cold, deep sea full of predators and other untold dangers. It’s slightly insane and totally illogical to put my life in the hands of a floating bucket of fiberglass. Kyle, however, says that’s what makes a trip like this so exciting. Kyle is different from me, though. The guy craves adrenaline like a drug addict craves heroin. “It’s going to be an adventure,” he said to me. “The biggest adventure of your life.” As insane and illogical as this whole thing is, a part of me—a tiny kernel that’s buried under a whole lot of baggage—wants to be a thrill-seeker. That’s why I’m here, I guess. When we reach the catamaran, Ethan steps aboard over the thick black block lettering that reads “Temptation” on the side of the hull. He lowers my duffel onto a seat in the cockpit, then reaches out to help me up. His hand closes tightly over mine, and I step onto the deck as the electric jolt of contact rushes through me yet again. Our gazes lock as he pulls me up to stand before him. He’s tall—taller even than Kyle. Gazing up into his sea-blue eyes, I open my mouth to thank him, but Kyle calls out a greeting, and Ethan releases my hand as we both turn toward the companionway. “Tara!” Kyle’s blond head pops out of the doorway, and he flashes me a blinding grin. “You’re here! Ah, and I see you’ve already met Ethan.” There he is. The man who helped bring me back from heavy depression, who wouldn’t let me quit school. Who convinced me to go on this trip. Four months ago, we were sitting on my couch wearing sweats, drinking beer, and watching action movies late one night—aka avoiding studying for midterms—when he told me Nalani had been hired to sail the brand-new luxury catamaran to Hawaii, and he was going with her. I told him he was a crazy moron. Then I’d wistfully said, “I’d like to do something crazy and moronic someday.” “Why don’t you, then?” I was on my third beer and feeling reckless. I’d grinned and said, “Think Nalani would let me come?” “Definitely. She’s searching for people to crew.” I’d raised my beer bottle, clinked it against his, and said, “Count me in.” Since then, those three little words have scared me and thrilled me and filled me with excitement and dread, all at the same time. Kyle, who’s spent the past week on the Temptation with Nalani getting the boat ready for the voyage, bounds out onto the deck and gives me a bear hug. But then he pulls away, grimacing, and holds me at arm’s length as he scowls down at my leg. “What the hell happened to you?” “Slime’s the new rage. Don’t you like it?” I bend my leg provocatively and make a sweeping gesture down the length of my green-smeared leg. “Algae is the hottest thing on the runway this summer.” Kyle’s lip curls. “Fashion sucks. In the Universe of Kyle, men should only wear board shorts and T-shirts, and women should only wear bikinis. Thong bikinis.” I roll my eyes at him. “Seriously,” he says, though his expression is anything but serious. “What happened?” “I fell.” “There’s algae all over the ramp coming down from the gate,” Ethan says darkly. “It’s slippery, and it’s a hazard, especially when the tide’s down and the ramp’s so steep.” There’s nothing in his words or tone that blames my limp or me being clumsy. I love him a little bit for that. “Bummer,” Kyle says sympathetically. He squeezes my shoulder. “You should go change.” Just then, Nalani exits the cabin. Nalani is a tough captain who doesn’t take bullshit from anyone. She’s beautiful in an exotic way, with thick, long black hair, wide-set Polynesian cheekbones, and dark almond-shaped eyes. She’s Kyle’s current bedmate too. Not his “girlfriend,” because Kyle refuses to call the women he sleeps with girlfriends, even when he’s been sleeping with them for a while, like he has with Nalani. When she sees my pants, we go through the slippery-algae-causing-me-to-fall conversation again. She flashes a knowing glance at Kyle, and my chest tightens. Unlike Ethan, she’s going to blame my limp for this. My supposed lack of balance was her main concern about having me as part of the crew. You need steady feet on a sailboat, otherwise it can be dangerous, for obvious reasons. She and Kyle argued about it, but he convinced her it wouldn’t be a problem. To prove myself to her, I took sailing lessons this past spring, and I’ve gone sailing with her on the Temptation. I thought all that established that I could be trusted to be steady on my feet. However, her lips pinch together in an annoyed expression that confirms she doesn’t have much faith in me after all. I grit my teeth, more determined than ever to prove to Nalani that my limp doesn’t limit me. It’s other things that limit me. But she doesn’t need to know that. I head toward the sliding door that leads into the main cabin, really needing to get changed, but as I reach the companionway, Mick emerges. Mick Tannenbaum is a salty sailor in his forties with a short stature, narrow features, and a swarthy appearance. He used to operate a sailboat chartering company in the Caribbean, so he’s a definite asset to the Temptation’s crew. He steps into the cockpit and shakes my hand vigorously. “Hey, Tara! You made it. Good for you.” “Hey, Mick.” He winks at me, his brown eyes twinkling. “So...you ready for this?” I told him about my reservations about this trip a couple of weeks ago on a warm-up sail to Catalina. I give him a brisk nod. “Yes, I definitely am,” I lie. He turns to Ethan. Evidently, the two of them haven’t met. “Mick, this is Ethan. Ethan, Mick,” Nalani says. “Mick is an experienced blue-water sailor. We’re lucky to have him aboard.” As they exchange pleasantries, I edge away, but just outside the companionway, I glance back at the small group clustered on the deck. For the next few weeks, there will never be more than fifty feet of separation between me and my four companions: Nalani, Kyle, Mick, and Ethan. My gaze lingers on Ethan. There’s a seriousness that cloaks him, a tightness about his lips, and a crease between his eyebrows that probably never goes away. His eyes scan his surroundings, and I bet he’ll be able to recite every detail of this moment tomorrow. He stands next to Kyle, light-haired, good-natured, perma-grinning Kyle, in his board shorts and tank top that shows off the tattoo on his right biceps of a surfer shredding a breaking wave. He’s Ethan’s polar opposite. Why has Ethan decided to do this, anyway? He seems solid, intense, and serious. He just doesn’t appear to be the thrill-seeking kind of guy who’s inclined to take off on a whim to rough it over open oceans for weeks at a time. Ethan’s blue eyes meet mine again. They seem to pierce right through my skin and burn me in places that have no business being burned by a stranger. The thought of spending weeks in such close quarters with him makes me uneasy and nervous, but the way he looks at me…it arouses hot, wicked, needy sensations I haven’t experienced in a long time. My lips curve into a shy smile. Ethan’s gaze flickers to my mouth and then his eyes narrow, sharpening into something predatory, something hungry. Something hot. The heat rushes directly to my cheeks, and, flustered and probably as red as a lobster, I look down and turn away. As I hurry to my cabin to change, my heart pounds wildly, my blood a heavy, hot throb through my veins. For the first time in almost two years, I feel desired. Chapter Two We leave the marina behind early the next morning, all of us wide awake and excited to get going at the “ass-crack of dawn,” as Kyle cheerfully calls this time of day. The ocean is calm, with dense, cool fog, and there’s no wind. When we put up the sails, we make no forward progress and the canvas just flutters uselessly. It feels like we’re a cork bobbing around in a giant tubful of placid water. We all stand around and look at each other helplessly. If this is going to be the weather all the way to Hawaii, we’ll make it sometime next year. Or maybe the year after. I’m not going to think of this as another bad omen...nope, not at all. After a few hours, Nalani gets frustrated and fires up the engine. “Screw saving gas,” she says. “This is ridiculous.” Finally we start to make progress through the gentle swells. As we cross the shipping lanes, Nalani tells me to go to the bow to keep a lookout for other boats. Even though other ships will see us on their radars and keep their distance, it’s good to keep a lookout as a precaution when it’s this foggy. So I sit on the very front of the right—no, the starboard—hull of the catamaran with Kyle keeping me company. Our legs dangle over the side as the Temptation cuts a swath through the fog. All is silent except for the low rumble of the engine. “I thought you were going to back out,” Kyle says. Last night, he kept looking at me as if I were a trapped rabbit whose cage door had just been opened. He expected me to jump up and rush back to the safety and comfort of my rabbit hole. “I thought so too,” I admit. “But you didn’t.” “I didn’t.” And that, all by itself, is exhilarating. There’s no backing out now. I’m doing this. I feel like doing a fist pump. “No panic attacks last night?” “Not one.” “I was sure I’d wake up this morning and you’d be gone.” I grin at him. In fact, I’d had a great night’s sleep, and Kyle had had to come in to my cabin to wake me this morning. He drapes his arm over my shoulders and tugs me close, and I relax against him. It’s always been like this with Kyle—there’s nothing sexual between us. He’s been the one constant in my life, and I love him for that. And right now, I’m glad to be sitting beside him out here on the tranquil ocean, with the Temptation purring beneath us. “Good job, T. See. I knew you could do it,” he says quietly. “It’s only the first morning, but...I think I’m going to be okay.” This odd feeling of elation has been nudging at me all morning. I’m not sure if it’s the freedom of being out on the open ocean or the fact that Ethan Williams keeps giving me these intense, scorching looks, but something is happening out here. I feel great. Kyle’s hand slips off my shoulders, and he glances back toward the stern. I follow his gaze to the bridge, where Nalani has her hands on the giant steering wheel. She’s gripping the circular wheel tightly as she stares at us, and the expression on her face isn’t friendly. “Uh-oh.” I scoot a few inches away from Kyle. “Eh.” Kyle waves his hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about her.” “She doesn’t think…?” My voice dwindles, and I make a strangled noise. Because, really, anything sexual between me and Kyle? Ew. It’d be like having sex with a brother. I can’t even say it out loud, because the whole idea of it gives me a sick feeling. “Nah. She knows we’ve been friends forever. I don’t know what the stink-eye’s about.” I like Nalani, and I respect her, but we’ll never become good friends. Except for her obnoxious distrust of my limp, she has been polite to me, but there’s also an aloofness about her that seems impossible to penetrate. “Just, please…can you remind her that we’re just friends? Because if I’m not mistaken, that was the pissed-off glare of a woman who feels like someone’s poaching on her territory.” Kyle scoffs. “I’m not her territory.” I wince at that. Kyle has been with a lot of women. He is the epitome of the clichéd never-willing-to-commit single guy. And he’s kind of a manwhore. “And I’m not poaching!” He raises his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. Fine! I’ll remind her.” He casts his eyes heavenward. “God.” I pat his shoulder consolingly. “Aw, you’re a big boy. You can do it. Plus, we’re on this boat for at least three weeks. You don’t want your girlfriend to be unhappy.” “Not my girlfriend.” Kyle has repeated this phrase to me at least a hundred times. “Nonetheless…” “I know, I know. Fine, I’ll talk to her.” Kyle sounds exasperated. And a little exhausted too. “I’ll go make nice.” “Good idea.” Heaving out a sigh, he stands and makes his way to Nalani. Alone, I lean forward against the lifeline—the plastic-covered wire strung taut above the edge of the deck. Smooth, low waves roll under us as the distance grows between the Temptation and the California coastline. My isolated existence slips farther and farther away. I’m breaking out of my bubble and heading into uncharted waters. For the first time, that thought doesn’t make me sweat. It doesn’t make my heart start beating hard, and it doesn’t close my throat. There’s no sign of a panic attack on the horizon. Everything is going to be okay. Three or four weeks on the ocean, a couple of weeks in Honolulu, then back to LA to start my career as a financial analyst for a prestigious bank downtown. This is my new beginning, and it’s exactly what I need. A few minutes later, footsteps sound behind me. Thinking Kyle has come back, I don’t look up. “What’s up?” “Nothing much.” My shoulders stiffen. It’s not Kyle standing behind me—it’s Ethan. We haven’t talked beyond the necessities since we met yesterday—we’ve all been busy preparing for the Temptation’s departure. This is the first time Ethan’s been off his phone or laptop all morning. He is clearly in demand at work, yet he agreed to take three weeks off to sail across the ocean. Why is he here? I don’t get it. Deck shoes, sailing pants, and a long-sleeved black cotton shirt have replaced the more formal clothes he was wearing yesterday. He was scorching hot in a suit, but this look… The shirt hugs his chest, leaving no doubt in my mind that while he works hard in the office, he also spends a lot of time in the gym. The cotton clings to his torso, revealing the dips and curves of every muscle—and there are many, taut and well defined. His sleeves are tight around bulging biceps. His muscular shoulders taper to a narrow waist. My mouth actually waters at the sight of him. I’m so jealous of his shirt—I want to be the one to be touching him all over like that. He holds out a steaming mug. “I brought you some coffee.” I take the cup from him and stare down at it, chewing on my lower lip, feeling my cheeks heat in a sudden flush of shyness. “Hey,” he says softly, “don’t be afraid of it—it’s just coffee. There aren’t any peanuts in it, I promise.” I glance at him in surprise. “You know I’m allergic to peanuts?” “Yes. Nalani mentioned it. She said we shouldn’t bring peanuts, or anything containing peanuts, on board.” Steam curls up from the coffee, and the beginnings of a light breeze blow it into my face. “I didn’t think peanuts were in the coffee. I’m just…” The words trail off as I scramble for something to say. “Ridiculously shy” won’t work. Neither will “Insanely jealous of your shirt getting to touch you all over like that.” I dig around desperately in my head but I can’t seem to find any words that will be socially acceptable. I don’t know how to act around this man. He’s so striking, and I’m so uncertain…so awkward. “I’m just surprised you brought me coffee, is all,” I murmur lamely. “That was very nice of you. Thanks.” “You’re welcome.” With the toe of his shoe, he nudges a spot beside my butt on the deck. “This seat taken?” “It’s all yours.” He slides down next to me as the Temptation rolls over a swell. “So have you ever had a reaction to peanuts?” he asks conversationally. “Once, when I was little. It was pretty traumatic. My parents rushed me to the hospital—I was unconscious by the time we got there. They shot me up with epinephrine and kept me in intensive care for three days. I’ve steered clear of them ever since.” He makes a sympathetic sound. “That does sound traumatic.” I take a sip of the coffee and taste the creamy sweetness. “This is perfect. How’d you know how I like my coffee?” He grins. “I saw how you doctored up your cup this morning.” We sit in silence for a while, side by side. I hold the coffee cup in two hands, hyperaware of him, of his every move, of his heat and his clean, male smell. Ethan is taciturn, but he bristles with contained energy. He takes everything in with a shrewd eye but rarely volunteers his opinion. He’s the kind of man who observes, then takes decisive action. And although he’s polite to a fault, everyone, even Nalani, treads carefully around him, acknowledging that among the five of us, he possesses the most dominant personality. He talked briefly about his venture capital business, Williams Funding, over dinner last night while we all stared at him, impressed. After dinner, he took several calls from business associates. His tone on the phone is terse and commanding—he’s definitely a man accustomed to being in charge. The ocean slips quietly by, its color reflecting the sky in a steely gray. Cool, damp air ruffles through my hair, but the fog seems to be lifting, the sun slowly burning it away. It’s quiet out here at sea. Lonely, but also calming. Ethan’s shoulder brushes against mine. His thigh is less than an inch away from mine, and my gaze drifts to his hand, where he holds it in a relaxed position over his knee. His hands are strong and large, with long fingers and clean, blunt-tipped nails. I imagine his hands touching me, those fingers grazing over my skin— “What are you thinking about?” The words hold an edge of roughness, and my gaze jerks to his face. “Nothing. Just looking.” Oh God. I instantly turn away, my face hot, because he must have seen me looking at him and not the ocean. It’s been too long since I’ve talked to a good-looking man who’s not Kyle. My skills, which were never very impressive to begin with, are rusty. Trying to think of a way to turn this conversation back on track, I scan the receding fog bank. A breeze has picked up, rippling the surface of the water. “So,” I say, trying to sound casually curious, “what tempted you onto the Temptation? I mean, it seems like you’re really busy with your company.” “It’s a working vacation for me.” “Why work on vacation? Why not just stay home?” “Then I’d always be home. I wouldn’t want to leave work behind, even if I could.” “So you never take real vacations?” “Real vacations?” he asks, his brows drawing together, deepening the crease above his nose. “You know, where you sit on a beach and read trashy magazines all day?” He thinks about it for a second, then slowly shakes his head. “Not for a long time.” “That’s too bad.” He smiles, a flash of straight white teeth, those lips spread wide and carving grooves into his cheeks, his eyes alight with humor. “Don’t feel sorry for me. I like what I do. If I didn’t, it’d be different.” He sounds confident in a way that’s foreign to me. He’s so self-assured. Maybe being close to him will rub some of it off on me. So he’s a workaholic. Is that why he’s so wealthy and successful—because he carries his work around with him like an extra limb? I imagine a long line of wealthy, ambitious Williamses, passing down their business acumen from son to son. “What do your parents do?” He slides his fingers over the smooth edge of the deck, back and forth in a repetitive motion. “My mom teaches preschool. My dad was an entrepreneur—the owner of a tech startup. He died when I was a kid. Cancer.” Sympathy for him is a burst of pain in my chest. “Oh. I’m so sorry.” “It’s okay.” He shrugs and turns to give me a slight smile. “It was a long time ago. I was young when it happened. His startup went under after his death.” I want to keep asking him questions, to learn more about him, to solve the mystery of his presence here, which still seems strange. Right now, his expression is less closed than usual, and that gives me the bravery to plunge ahead. “Do you have brothers and sisters?” He shakes his head. “Only child.” “Where did you grow up?” “Silicon Valley.” He hesitates, then asks, “You?” “Born and raised in Southern California.” “And your parents?” “My dad was an orthopedic surgeon, and my mom was an actress.” At this point, people usually ask what my mom was in, trying to figure out if they know her. I tell them about how she starred in the long-running prime-time drama Nights in Olympus. Most everyone remembers her from that. But Ethan just nods. Then says, “I’m sorry you lost them.” I jerk back, surprised. How did he know that? Kyle must have said something. Though Kyle has always been good about keeping my private life private. Or maybe Ethan just noticed I spoke about my parents in the past tense. I shrug at him like he shrugged at me. “It was a long time ago for me too. They were driving home from a party, and their car was hit by a drunk driver. I was eight. Emily—my sister—was thirteen.” And then, twelve years later, she was taken from me too, in another awful car accident. The accident Emily and I were in wasn’t caused by a drunk driver but by defective brakes. There had been a recall on the brakes for that model of car, which Emily, in her typical frivolous way, had ignored. Not surprisingly, I don’t drive. Darkness shadows Ethan’s face, as if he’s feeling empathy for what Em and I went through as kids, because he went through a similar experience with his dad. He looks away from me and out over the water. He doesn’t ask me where Emily and I lived after our parents died—that’s usually the next question people ask. But I’m learning quickly that Ethan is different from most people. We both stare at the ocean for a minute. Finally, he says in a voice so low I have to strain to hear it: “You asked me how I was tempted here. The truth is, doing this…crossing this ocean…it’s something I need to do.” I nod but gaze at him questioningly, wondering what he means by that. His expression has closed and turned remote, and he doesn’t meet my eyes. There’s definitely a lot more behind that statement than he’s letting on. I open my mouth to ask him, but the shuttered look on his face makes me close it again. Shyness ultimately prevents me from prying further. We sit in silence, gazing out over the open ocean. I struggle against this craving, this pull to move closer to him. I haven’t felt this drawn to someone since…well, ever. Every one of my senses is attuned to him. The nerves on my skin buzz with awareness. My every breath is full of him. His body is solid next to mine, and his heat washes over me. I remember the way his fingers pressed against my lower back yesterday, and I hold my muscles tight to keep from leaning toward him. Taking a strand of my hair that the rising breeze has made flutter over my cheek, he pushes it aside and tucks it behind my ear. I shudder as his fingers brush over the shell of my ear, then I turn to him. The softness of his expression fades and warms until there’s undeniable heat in his blue eyes. Scorching heat that burns in places inside me I never knew could feel so hot. I gaze at him, spellbound, trying to figure him out, trying to glean some understanding from his body language. He keeps giving me these clues that he finds me attractive, but no one ever sees me that way, much less guys as insanely appealing as Ethan, so my mind tries to deny the possibility. My brain frantically scrambles, thinking of other reasons a man might look at me like he wants to devour me whole—but it comes up with nothing. Unbidden, my gaze moves from his eyes to his lips. They’re slightly parted. His lips are so plump, so kissable. I want to kiss him. I want him to kiss me. Desperately. My tongue flicks out and swipes over my top lip. His gaze flickers to my mouth. “Tara…” I can’t tell if it’s a question or a statement, but I answer him. “Yes.” The word doesn’t sound like it came out of me—it emerges low and sultry, full of longing and heat. He flattens his hand on the deck behind me, bracing himself, his arm a solid length of muscle along my back. My lips part, releasing a sigh of anticipation. And then he leans down to kiss me. Justine Twelve Years Ago September 24, 2002 My first diary entry My head is exploding with so many things to say, so many things to celebrate and be excited about. If I were to tell one of my friends—my many new friends—or him…they’d probably have me committed, that’s how excited I am. I’m one of those giddy girls with a smile bursting across her face and who jumps up and down on her toes incessantly because she simply cannot contain her joy. I don’t want to scare anyone with my elation. Which is why I have turned to you, Dear Diary. I can tell you everything that will alarm all the dull people beyond these pages. You won’t judge. How I feel will never scare you or make you worry that I might just be a little insane. So, anyway. Back to the matter at hand. I am so excited. This is going to be the best year of my life. The very best. The most wildly astonishingly wonderful, amazing year. I love my classes. LOVE THEM! I wanted an easy class or two so I could enjoy my freshman year, so I’m retaking calculus, physics, and chemistry, though I got 5s on all my AP scores for those classes. I’m also taking programming methodology. It’s like a smorgasbord of all my favorite subjects—a veritable feast. The lecturers here are brilliant, and I especially adore my stats and calc professors. They are incredible. Fantastic. Inspiring. My roommate is adorable, and we’ve become the best of friends. She’s a psych major, and she already thinks she’s an expert in her field. When she tries to psychoanalyze me, I laugh inside. I mean, I am literally cracking up so intensely in my head that it’s almost impossible to keep a straight face. Seriously…the best psychiatrists in the country can’t figure me out, because I don’t allow them to. And Ginny, my seventeen-year-old roommate, thinks she can draw out my deepest emotions and then she can fix me. I love her, though. Her cuteness makes me smile. So I keep telling her how amazing her skills are, and when she says, all quiet compassion, “You’ve carried around your mother’s abandonment like a heavy weight, haven’t you?” I say, “Oh my God…you’re so perceptive, Gin.” And I let a little tear form in my eye. She loves that. My dorm room is lovely, with a great view of the beautiful elm trees that line the sidewalk outside. The other students on my floor are hilarious, and they all actually like me, which is quite a change, I’ve got to tell you. I should erase that last line. Scratch it out like the intrusive little cancerous thought it is. Because I’m not here to talk about high school. That is past. Gone. Over. Dead. I’m turning over a new, bright, and shiny leaf, and I’m doing a fantastic job of it so far. And now…the best for last, Dear Diary: him. I’ve met someone…and in my programming methodology class, of all the absolutely perfect places to meet someone. He’s brilliant—that much was obvious during the first week of the semester, when he debugged a line of code that had me pulling my hair out in frustration. It’s the first time anyone has ever been able to solve a coding problem before I could, and I have to tell you, I was beyond impressed. And he’s magnificent. The handsomest boy I’ve ever met. He’s got dark, almost ebony hair, and these electric-blue eyes that are so piercing that when he first turned them on me, all the little hairs on my arms stood straight up as if I’d stuck my finger in a socket. And, can you believe this? After I met him in class, I saw him in the dining hall! Yes, he lives in my dorm. I think it’s fate, I honestly do. He lives on the floor below mine, just below me, in fact, so when I’m lying in bed, I picture him sleeping underneath me, his long, dark lashes covering those compelling eyes. I imagine him as an innocent little boy when he’s sleeping. Helpless and beautiful and just…wonderful. We sat together at dinner the night we met and every night since—and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when we both have a nine o’clock class, we have breakfast together too. Last night at dinner, over our roasted chicken and mashed potatoes, he asked me out for the first time. We’re going to a movie on Friday night. I think he’s going to kiss me after that movie, Diary. His gaze keeps wandering to my lips, drifting down over my face until his eyes stop at my mouth. And then he just stares. The expression on his face is hungry. He wants to taste me….just like I want to taste him. Friday night. It’s our first date, and it will be our first kiss. The start of many more dates and kisses to come. What’s his name, you ask? Why, it’s Ethan. Ethan Williams. Chapter Three Ethan’s breath whispers over my lips. He moves inexorably closer, and I anticipate what it’ll be like when he kisses me—warm and soft, erotic, enticing, and he’ll taste like heat and man, and— “All done!” I jerk back, emitting a small yelp of surprise, and whip my head around to look over my shoulder. Mick stands just behind us. He grins. “Am I interrupting something?” “Not at all.” Ethan hasn’t moved, hasn’t jumped guiltily backward like I did, but irritation sparks in his eyes. “I came to tell you the fog watch is over,” Mick explains. “We can go below.” “Oh. Great.” I slide a glance at Ethan. “Um…” “Nalani’s gone down to make lunch,” Mick continues. “It should be ready in a minute. Should I tell her you’re on your way?” “We’ll be down in a minute,” Ethan says. “All righty.” Mick turns around and makes his way back to the cockpit, leaving Ethan and me alone again. The wild desire to wrap my arms around him and drag him to me still swirls within me, but now I’m suddenly aware of Kyle standing at the wheel behind us and the Plexiglas windows in the bridge deck that open to the front of the boat. Nalani is in there, Mick will be there in a second, and if Ethan and I kissed now, they’d all have a front-row seat to the show. Ethan watches Mick disappear, then turns back to me. His expression has cooled—devoid of all the scorching heat of a moment ago. Just like that, doubt slams into me. Was that almost-kiss just me being over-hopeful? Maybe it was me making a move to kiss him, and he was just sitting there trying to be friendly. I’m so on fire every time Ethan’s near me, honestly it wouldn’t surprise me if his interest was all a product of my imagination. I cradle my coffee cup in my hands and grind my teeth. Second-guessing myself is one of my best skills, and I hate it. “I should go help with lunch,” I murmur. He nods and reaches for my mug. “Let me take that for you.” I start walking, and he follows, his gaze prickling the back of my neck. I snag my lower lip between my teeth as I grip the lifeline that’s strung along the edge of the deck and let it slide in my hand as I approach the cockpit. I shouldn’t care about the limp anymore; I should be used to it by now. Still, when people watch me walk from behind, I can’t see the expressions on their faces, their reactions to my awkward gait, and that makes me self-conscious. Step carefully. Minimize the limp. Don’t fall. Ethan’s already seen me fall once. So help me, it’s not going to happen again. I don’t know whether to curse Mick or thank him for interrupting that moment between Ethan and me. He could have been stopping me from experiencing the best kiss of my life…or he might have just prevented me from making a total idiot of myself. I wish I knew which. We eat lunch out in the cockpit, because the sun is now shining, there’s a slight breeze, and it’s beautiful and warm outside. Nalani has turned off the engine, and the sails are up and full of air. Though we’re not going fast, at least we’re moving. As we eat, Nalani tells us she’s made a watch schedule. She’s planned it so that there’s at least one but usually two people on the deck on watch 24/7. She talks about our duties during our watches while I surreptitiously study Ethan. He listens to Nalani with such serious intensity, my skin prickles. I still don’t understand why he’s here. “It’s something I need to do,” he’d said. But what does that mean? Why would he need to do this? He doesn’t spare a glance for me. He’s deeply focused as Nalani passes around the watch schedule. Surprise, surprise—Nalani hasn’t scheduled Kyle and me together. Instead, I share my watches with Mick and Ethan. Nalani has given me two four-hour blocks—one in the late morning and one late at night. This timing works perfectly, since I’m used to being up late studying. Ethan frowns down at the schedule. “Is this wise?” He points at my hours. “Tara has an hour by herself from ten to eleven. Is it safe to have her out on deck alone at night?” Seriously? I gape at him. Nalani puts down her fork and sighs. “It wasn’t easy to make this schedule work with only five of us. It’s just an hour, and most of us should still be awake at ten.” She turns serious brown eyes on me. “My rule is to always wear your PFD and a harness while you’re on watch alone, got it?” “Got it,” I say dutifully, but I focus on my salad, jabbing my fork into a piece of lettuce, my cheeks hot. “We’ll see how it goes for a few days, and then we’ll revisit. And if we have any bad weather, we’ll all be up and working, so Tara won’t be alone.” “I’ll be fine,” I assure both of them, unable to keep the edge of irritation from my voice. Ethan’s lips are flat and tight. He’s not convinced this is a good idea. But he doesn’t say anything, which is a good thing because, honestly, if he pushed this one too hard, I might lose my temper. It’s true I’m the most novice sailor here, so I ultimately understand the rationale behind his question. But it still annoys me. And if he doesn’t even have the respect for me to believe I can handle an hour on watch alone, why would he want to kiss me? All that heat must have been a product of my overactive imagination. Damn it. * * * * * We are four days out to sea, and everything has gone smoothly. We all get along, sharing duties and conversations easily. The days are clear and summery. The ocean and sky are our constant companions. So much blue. None of us seem prone to seasickness, and we all have acquired our sea legs. We don’t stumble around with the constant movement of the Temptation anymore—instead we move with the boat, our bodies instinctively predicting its motion. It’s late morning, and I’m on watch by myself—Mick is done with his portion of the morning watch, and I have another hour before Ethan will show up. I’m sitting on the trampoline—the mesh cloth strung between the two hulls in front of the bridge deck—my knees tucked against my chest and my arms wrapped around them. The sun’s rays heat through my light jacket, and sweat breaks out on my skin under the bands of the personal flotation device—the PFD. The harness that attaches me to the base of the mast flutters in the light breeze, under the billowing foresail. The Temptation slides through the waves, moving quickly over the water with no motor and only a gentle wind powering the cat forward. The boat takes full advantage of that power, collecting it in its sails until they’re full and its hulls are carving their way inexorably toward the other side of the ocean. There have been no near kisses, or near-imagined kisses, between Ethan and me. Instead, he has been unfailingly polite. At times I feel the heat of his gaze, but he studies everyone else equally intensely. I must have imagined that near-miss kiss, because he’s so unflinchingly civil, and he acts as if it never happened. He’s a perfect gentleman. I’m used to the relaxed easiness of Kyle and most other Californians, but Ethan opens doors for me and helps me down steps and makes sure I get my food and drink before he does. He stops short of rising, but his posture straightens whenever I enter the cabin. But he’s closed off. He only exposes little pieces of himself. He allows the world to see only what he wants us to see: The confident businessman. The competent sailor. The quintessential gentleman. The leader. But I know that’s not all there is to him. There’s more to why he’s here. There’s more to his past. There’s more to that almost-kiss. There’s more to the way he looks at me. I wish I knew what that more was. The mystery of Ethan should make me wary, but no. It only adds to my fascination with him. If we were on dry land, I’d run. Logic would tell me to get as far away from him as possible and forget him as quickly as possible. The sheer force of my fascination with this man—it makes me feel out of control, nervous, and so self-conscious I’m at a loss as to what to do with myself. But I can’t run away—we’re stuck in the middle of the ocean. The only true separation from him is when I’m alone in my cabin. And even there, I can’t stop thinking about him. How insanely gorgeous he is. How he intrigues me, how I want to learn more—everything—about him. How his lips would feel if we’d actually kissed. How it would feel to have those hands touching me. I press my forehead to my knees, sighing, and my gaze catches on the empty coffee mug sitting beside me. It’s at about this time every morning that I go down to the galley for my second cup of coffee to sip through the remaining couple of hours of my watch. I stand, my legs flexing and bending to accommodate the Temptation’s constant motion, intending to head over to the bridge area to check the autopilot, GPS, and radar again to ensure all will be well with no one on deck for a few moments. Kyle emerges from the cockpit, his blond hair fluttering in the breeze. “Hey!” he calls. “Stay put—I’ll join you. Aaaannd…” he sings, raising a mug into the air, “I’ve got coffeeee!” I raise my brows at him. He’s never up this early. He steps on the deck and begins to walk toward me, but then, suddenly, his feet slip out from under him. His body lurches backward. The coffee cup flies out of his hand as his arms flail, scrabbling for purchase. The cup crashes on the deck and shatters. He goes down hard, and his head thuds against the edge of the deck. And then…he simply disappears. Fear rises in me so powerfully and so quickly, there’s no time to think—only to react. I sprint toward the back of the boat, but my harness holds me back, and my numb fingers wrestle with it as I run. I finally unclip it and toss it away as I leap into the cockpit. I poke my head in the cabin door, and bellow, “Man overboard! Man overboard!” before turning back toward the Temptation’s wake. Oh God. Where is he? The ocean is spread out before me, an unbroken canvas of blue. I can’t find him. He wasn’t wearing a life jacket. He could be drowning...unconscious... No. This won’t happen to another person I care about. The previous times I was helpless to prevent it, but this time I’m not. I lunge for the horseshoe-shaped flotation device hanging from the rail at the back of the boat and rip it from its perch. Someone shouts behind me, and people run out onto the deck, but I’m barely aware of them. All I can think about is Kyle. About getting him back. I duck under the lifelines and emerge onto the steps that descend to the water, all the while scanning the water behind the Temptation. The catamaran rises over the crest of a wave, and there it is. A flash of red. Kyle’s shirt. He floats facedown in the water. It’s only a matter of a minute or so before he drowns. I dive off the end of the catamaran. Cold water bites my skin and glues my clothes to my body. My arms churn the water, one hand gripping the line of the life preserver. I power up a wave and slide down the back face of it. At the top, I search desperately until my eyes lock on the red blob of Kyle’s shirt. Thank God he wore red. It seems like eons pass, my panic ratcheting up every second. Every few seconds, I look up, peering over the waves until I see that flash of red. I finally reach him, gasping as I grab him and roll under him so he rotates and his face is out of the water. The horseshoe float hooks around his back, and my life jacket keeps me afloat even though he’s completely limp in my arms. His weight threatens to drag both of us down, even with my PFD. With my arm braced behind his head, I turn him in the direction of the Temptation. The waves surge under us, trying to flip him over, but I hold firm, my lungs straining for air. I’ve never swum so fast. “Kyle?” Shake him, wake him up! But I can’t shake him. He probably has a head injury. “Please wake up,” I beg. “Please, please wake up.” He coughs, spitting out water, and takes in a great, shuddering breath. His eyes don’t open, but they do flicker under his lids. “Okay.” I grip him firmly, cursing when seawater splashes on his face. “You’re okay.” I search for the Temptation. The catamaran is far in the distance—it looks so small from here. People are on deck handling the helm and the lines, but I can’t tell who’s who, and they’re out of hearing range. Sails flap wildly as the boat turns and begins to head toward us. “Hang on,” I tell Kyle. “They’re coming.” The Temptation takes a few minutes to get back to us. It makes a wide circle around us, dragging a rope that trails to us as the boat pulls away. There’s another life-preserver type of buoy at the end of the rope, and I secure it around Kyle, who’s still unconscious. By this time, fear and adrenaline and the cold water have combined to make shudders rack my body. Barely paying attention to what they’re yelling at me from the boat, I move my hands to Kyle’s chest and lips to make sure he’s breathing. “Wake up, Ky. Please. Please.” But then Ethan’s words register. He calls out, “Swim with him. We’re bringing him in.” Up on the Temptation’s deck, Mick works a winch, winding it around and around. Kyle and I are pulled closer to the cat until the waves begin to slap us against the boat. Nalani is at the wheel, steering. I wedge my body between Kyle and the hull as one particularly steep wave smashes me against it, knocking the wind out of me. “Goddammit!” Ethan growls from somewhere above me. “Are you all right, Tara?” Still gasping for air, I give a weak thumbs-up in his direction. Ethan looks a million miles away up the steep angle of the side of the boat. His lips are compressed into a thin line, and a muscle ticks in his jaw. Ethan—not Nalani—seems to be the one in charge. He turns and bites out an order, inaudible over the wild flapping sound the sails make. However, it’s clear that neither Mick nor Nalani question the sudden change in leadership. Nalani yells, “Got it!” and Mick grits his teeth as he works the winch, holding a looped rope over his forearm. I turn away from the Temptation and wrap my arms around Kyle, pressing myself against the comforting rise and fall of his chest, keeping his face above water and whispering, “Just hold on, Ky,” as they reel us in. Chapter Four Ethan calls down to me as I grip Kyle in preparation to battle another wave. “We’re going to bring you over to the stern.” It takes several minutes to drag Kyle and me around to the back of the boat, and Mick begins to hoist a very limp, very heavy, waterlogged, and unconscious man from the water. Mick’s sailing skills are put to good use as he manipulates various ropes and pulleys and a winch to lever him out. I try to help by pushing Kyle up. His skin feels clammy and cold under my hands, which scares the crap out of me. As soon as he’s on deck, I scramble up the steps behind him, but then dry, powerful arms close around me, and Ethan hauls me out of the water. He tucks me against him and carries me to the cockpit as I try to squirm away. I need to get back to Kyle. Why hasn’t he woken up? Twisting as much as possible within the lock of Ethan’s arms, I see Mick and Nalani kneel over Kyle, whom they’ve arranged on his back on the opposite side of the cockpit floor. “I need”—breaths saw harshly from my throat—“Kyle.” Ethan lowers me onto the white vinyl bench seat in the cockpit and unclips the PFD. “Tell me you’re okay, Tara.” I turn away from him and try to get up, but his hands close around my shoulders, pinning me to the seat. Fingers digging into my flesh, he shakes me gently until I turn from Kyle to him. “Just tell me you’re okay.” Why is he so concerned about me when Kyle is obviously the one who’s been hurt? I want to yell at him to let go of me and let me go to Kyle, but the expression on his face stops me cold. I suck in a deep gulp of air. His eyes are glassy, his lips thin, and his skin pale. There’s no sign of his usual steady control. The intensity is there though, and right now, his absolute focus is directed at me. “I’m fine.” I don’t know why he’s so upset, but the urge to reassure him is overpowering. I reach up and graze my fingertips over his cheek, staring into his glassy eyes. “I’m okay. Just…I need to go to Kyle and make sure he’s okay too.” His fingers loosen their hold on me. He swallows hard, then nods, his shoulders straightening, and the intensity bleeds from his eyes. “All right.” Shaking off the soaking-wet PFD and letting it fall to the cockpit floor, I duck under his arm and hurry over to Kyle. Ethan is right behind me when I drop to my knees at Kyle’s side. “Kyle?” His eyelids flutter. He coughs again and then starts to gag. “Turn him over,” Ethan commands. We roll him onto his side while he throws up seawater onto the cockpit floor. Finally the coughing and choking sounds subside, and we settle him onto his back. “Sh…it,” he rasps, dragging the back of his arm over his forehead. Nalani exhales in a relieved sigh as she pushes his matted blond hair out of his eyes. He blinks at her, his green eyes bright, and says groggily, “What the fuck happened?” “You fell overboard, I think.” She turns to me, a question in her eyes. “Yes,” I confirm. “You slipped and banged your head on the way down and passed out.” His eyes sink shut. “That would explain the headache,” he mumbles. My hammering pulse has slowed down…a bit. Adrenaline is still a powerful buzz under my skin. Ethan’s arm wraps comfortingly around my shoulders, and I take Kyle’s hand. His eyelids flicker, and he sees it’s me before they close again. He squeezes my fingers weakly. “Why’re you all wet, T?” Everyone’s quiet for a second—the only sound is the loud flapping of the sails. Then Nalani says, “She jumped in after you.” Kyle’s hand tightens around mine. “Course she did,” he mumbles. “Tell me where it hurts.” Mick’s fingers move around on Kyle’s scalp. He reaches a spot on the top near the back, and Kyle winces. “There.” Mick’s hands leave Kyle, and he stands. “I’ll get some ice for it. It’s going to be a whopper of a goose egg.” Kyle shivers. I don’t blame him—we’re dripping wet, and even though it’s warm and sunny, my clothes are heavy and the wind sends a cold bite through me. Ethan rubs my shoulder as if trying to infuse warmth into it. “Can you stand?” Nalani asks Kyle. “We need to get you dry.” “You too,” Ethan murmurs in my ear. “I think so,” Kyle says. Then he winces. “But I might puke.” “No worries,” Nalani assures him. I’ve never seen her so patient and calm. She and Ethan help him stand, then he straightens and shoots a grin at all of us. “I’m good. Really. No problem. Just a splitting headache.” Holding the back of his head, he staggers through the companionway, and he and Nalani disappear down the steps that lead to their cabin. “Come on,” Ethan tells me. “You need to get changed.” Numbness washes over me, and I passively let him remove my sodden shoes and socks. Then he leads me down into my cabin, where he opens my dresser drawers and pulls out underwear, a pair of sweats, a bra, and a T-shirt, asking me with each item, “Is this okay?” I just stand there and nod, feeling like some kind of automaton as he lays everything on my bed. Who cares about clothes right now? A slow tremor begins in my stomach and spreads to my limbs. It grows in intensity until it isn’t a mild tremble but a full-blown, teeth-chattering shake. There’s no hiding it from Ethan. Is this a panic attack? Probably…but it’s different from any I’ve ever had. Ethan gently removes my jacket and then works the soaking-wet pants down my quaking legs and helps me to step out of them. That image of Kyle slumped over, head down in the water, repeats in an endless loop in my head. I just came close—so close to losing him. I can’t lose Kyle. He’s all I have left. Tears squeeze out of my eyes and run down my cheeks. My fingers clasp on to the top lip of the built-in armoire to keep me from crumpling to the floor. The mirror above the armoire shows my face cast with a sickly yellow pallor. Wetness darkens my matted blond hair. My blue eyes are wide and shining as if I’m astonished about something, and my lower lip trembles. I look fragile, like an autumn leaf shaking in the wind, ready to crackle into dozens of tiny, brittle pieces. Ethan has left to fetch a towel from the bathroom, but when he comes back, he sees my heaving shoulders and the tears, and his mask of calm collapses. “Jesus Christ,” he rasps out. He gathers me into his arms and sits on the edge of the bed with me on his lap. He rocks me, holding me tight against him. I’m wearing only my wet panties, a dripping T-shirt, and my bra. The nasty, raised red scars that slash down my right leg, the ones I usually hide from people at all costs, are fully exposed. So is the bruise from the fall on the marina ramp—now an ugly purple-and-yellow bloom across most of my pale thigh. But I can’t even bring myself to care that Ethan can see these ugly flaws. Bone-deep shudders rip through me, and my teeth chatter. Sobs tear from my throat. I wrap my arms around Ethan and bury my face against his solid shoulder. What would I do without Kyle? If I lost him too… I couldn’t go on. I know I couldn’t. Ethan wraps the towel around me and holds me. He strokes my wet, salty, matted hair and murmurs “shh” as he rocks me. After several minutes, my tears slow and then stop altogether. Finally, all the emotion drains from my body, leaving me exhausted. I draw back, chagrined and embarrassed to have lost it like that in front of Ethan. “I’m sorry.” The apology emerges in a shaky whisper. His lips brush the top of my forehead, and his arms tighten around me. “Nothing to be sorry about. You were damn brave out there.” I glance up through my matted eyelashes at him. The heat in his gaze sends sudden, surprising lust spiraling through me. His lips part, and my gaze latches on to them. God, how I’ve wanted to taste his lips. Ever since the moment we met, I’ve wanted to feel them moving over mine. “Fuck, Tara,” he whispers. His eyes blaze with azure heat. And then he’s kissing me. His lips are soft. Dry. Warm. When they press against me, nudging my own lips open, I come to life, need and desire exploding within me. My arms slide over his damp T-shirt, around the taut muscles of his sides. The heat of his skin burns through the fabric of his shirt. My lips part, moving against his. His taste bursts through me, so warm and smooth—like nothing I’ve ever experienced. His hand slips behind my head, pulling me tighter against him. The kiss deepens, his tongue sliding over my upper lip and then exploring the inside of my mouth. It’s been over a year and a half since I last kissed a man. This is different. Deeper, more intense. Sexier. It lights a flame that rages through my body like wildfire. My senses reel, nearing overload. I’m soaking wet, but my body is so hot and frantic and needy. The urge to drink him in, keep him here, explore every bit of him with my lips and my hands overwhelms me. My fingers claw into his shirt, tugging him closer, closer still. The desire to sink into his warmth and his heat and the sheer power of him is all consuming. This isn’t enough. My mouth opens; my lips and tongue glide over his. He kisses me harder, his breath hot and erotic over my skin, his fingers digging into my nape, his other hand splayed just above my butt. My hands plunge under his shirt and my palms push over the heated skin of his back. He feels so good against my body, under my lips, beneath my palms. I could crawl within him and stay there. A gnawing hunger has come alive within me, and I don’t want to stop. I never want to stop. And then, with an almost inaudible groan, he pulls away. My body lurches forward, my lips blindly seeking his, but he grips my upper arms and says, “No.” My mind doesn’t comprehend the word at first, then his meaning rushes in, breaking through the haze of lust. No means no. He wants me to stop. As much as I want to keep kissing him, keep touching him, I have to stop. I jerk back, blinking up at him. A flush slashes over his cheekbones, but his eyes...his eyes are dark and narrow. Hard. Oh God. He doesn’t want this. “I’m sorry, Tara.” Standing, he lifts me away from him and lowers my feet onto the cabin floor, holding me at arm’s length, his grip tight on my biceps. “I shouldn’t have done that. It shouldn’t have happened, okay?” He shakes me just a tiny bit, as if to drill in his point. Nope, not okay. Not okay at all. “It was a mistake,” he says firmly. “It won’t happen again. It can’t.” I’ve finally grasped on to something wonderful, something so good I never want to let it go, and it’s slipping through my fingers. I don’t understand it, though. He initiated the kiss, and he’s pulling away. Why? I didn’t think I was that bad of a kisser... That muscle works in his jaw again. His expression hardens even further and he closes himself off as palpably as a gate slammed in my face. Icy coldness washes through me, but I gaze at him steadily, finally finding the strength to stare him down. We stand still, eyes locked, neither of us moving for a long minute. Then he says, his voice taut as the tightrope I feel I’m walking on, “You should go check on Kyle.” I fall, my body spinning, and the slam back to earth knocks the wind out of me. I’ve totally forgotten Kyle. I’m in here mauling a guy I hardly know while Kyle could be seriously injured. I’m a terrible friend. I turn away to fumble with my clothes with shaking hands, trying to catch my breath. All my insecurities and awkwardness seem to flood back into me along with the guilt. Ethan kissed me, but he stopped it. He regrets kissing me. I am so confused. Did I do it wrong? Did I do something to turn him off? Maybe his fingers brushed over the scar on my leg… I freeze, my back to him, and squeeze my eyes tightly shut. “I need to get dressed.” I sound like I’ve rubbed sandpaper all over my vocal cords. “Do you mind?” I gesture at the door. “No, of course not.” His expression is unreadable as he turns and walks out of my cabin, closing the door behind him. I’m a crappy friend and a terrible kisser. Ethan is out of my league—I knew that from the first moment I saw him. I forgot that my fantasies are just a figment of my imagination. I quickly get dressed and drag a brush through my matted hair a few times. Then I hurry back up to check on Kyle. Ethan stands in the main cabin, his eyes tracking my movement. I wish he wouldn’t look at me like that. The heat in his gaze...God it’s confusing the hell out of me. He regrets touching you. He regrets kissing you. His words come back to me: “It won’t happen again.” I force myself to look away from him. Pretending he doesn’t exist is the only way for me to function right now. Mick and Nalani are outside dealing with getting the Temptation back on course. Kyle is sprawled out on the leather sofa, one arm thrown across his eyes and a bag of frozen peas pressed to the top of his head. I kneel beside him. “Headache still bad?” “Yup,” he mutters. Ethan touches my shoulder. It takes everything I have not to stiffen, and I keep my eyes firmly on Kyle. “I’m going out on the deck. My watch starts soon.” I’m supposed to still be on watch right now, but who cares? Kyle is more important. I give a jerk of a nod. Ethan lets me go, and I hear his retreating footsteps and the companionway door closing after him. I release a breath and wrap my hand around Kyle’s wrist. His face has a green cast to it and his skin is still clammy. “Are you having any other symptoms besides the headache?” “Nah. The nausea is getting better. Mick thinks it’s just a mild concussion.” “That’s good,” I say, thinking how much worse it could have been. I could’ve lost him today. I could’ve... I push the thought away. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay? You were out for a while.” “Yeah, I’m sure. I promise, I already feel normal. Almost.” He pauses, and his lips curl into a grin. “Hey, T?” “Yeah?” “Thanks for jumping in after me.” I wrap my arms around him. He’s changed into dry clothes, and he smells like the same comfortable Kyle as always, if a little salty. “You’d do the same for me, right?” I ask, the words muffled in his chest. “Every time.” “Well,” an irritated voice says from behind me, “then both of you are stupid.” I jerk up in surprise, then glance over my shoulder and blink at Nalani. She gazes down at me and Kyle, her mouth twisted into a frown. My lips part, and for a moment, I have no idea what to say. “’Lani,” Kyle groans. “Well, it’s true,” she snaps. “The way to save someone who’s fallen overboard is never to go jumping after him. You just risk your own life, and now the crew has to rescue two people instead of one.” Kyle’s arm doesn’t move from over his eyes. I rise to my feet, straightening until I’m face-to-face with Nalani. “He was unconscious,” I bite out. “I needed to get his head out of the water. You would have done the same thing.” She scoffs, which brings my anger straight to the boiling point. “Of course I wouldn’t have gone jumping in after him! Whether he was unconscious or not is irrelevant. If you’d done what you were supposed to do and turned the boat around immediately, we could have gotten to him faster. It’s basic man-overboard procedure, Tara”—she snarls when she says my name—“and I know you know it, because I taught it to you!” My jaw drops. She’s lost her frigging mind. “I don’t give a shit what basic man-overboard procedure is. I was going after him, and I was getting his face out of that water.” “There are procedures we all need to follow. You know this. As part of my crew, it’s important you follow certain basic rules. This one turned out okay, but if you’d followed the procedure I taught you, the situation would have been under control much faster.” She has got to be kidding me. It took them a few minutes to get the Temptation turned around and back to Kyle and me. If he’d been facedown in the water that whole time—I can’t even think about it. My eyes narrow at Nalani. “I think you need to revisit your ‘procedures,’ then. There was no way—no way—I wasn’t going after him.” My heart pounds fast again, and my face is hot. My fingers itch to slap that expression of superior disdain off her face. Part of me knows this response is irrational. This anger is a direct result of what happened. To Kyle and with Ethan. Nalani’s bitchiness is only the straw that broke the camel’s back. I need to get away from her and cool down. Clenching my fists at my sides, I force myself to turn to Kyle. “Are you going to be okay?” He’s removed his hand from over his eyes and has risen to a sitting position. His gaze flicks from me to Nalani and back to me again. My reaction to her surprises him. It’s been a long time since he’s seen me this furious. Nalani grinds her teeth audibly, but really, I can’t bring myself to care if she’s pissed. She can be pissed all she wants—I would still jump in after Kyle if the same situation happened all over again. “Yeah. I’m okay.” He gives me a nod as if to say, You go ahead. I’ll deal with her, and I’m more than happy to comply. I stalk out through the companionway, fuming, grabbing my wet PFD from the cockpit floor where I left it. As I rise, thrusting my arms into the armholes, my gaze lands on Ethan crouched over the area where Kyle slipped, gathering pieces of the coffee cup and throwing them overboard. He doesn’t notice me watching him. He’s studying the deck with a deep crease between his brows. The dark expression on his face concerns me enough to push aside what just happened between us. I finish clipping my PFD and head toward him. “What is it?” He rubs his fingers on the deck and turns up his hand. His fingertips are shiny. I crouch down across from him and slide my fingers over the bumpy surface of the deck. It’s slicked with coffee, but there’s also something else—something oily and slippery. “What’s this?” “It’s silicone. Maybe from a spray can—I’m not sure.” Ethan sniffs his fingers. “But why here? Who’d spray silicone lubricant onto the deck?” “Maybe someone was carrying something and some of it spilled here?” He shakes his head, frowning. “There’s a lot of it.” “Well, no one would have done it on purpose.” His eyes flicker to me and then back to the deck. “Yeah,” he says gruffly. As if he’s not convinced. Someone might’ve done this on purpose? Nah. That’s ridiculous. Ethan looks up again and captures my gaze, dead serious, and uses that commanding tone he has when he’s talking on the phone. “Be careful. Hold on to the lifelines whenever you’re on deck. Wear your PFD every time you leave the cabin. Clip yourself in whenever you can. Watch where you step. Understand?” I laugh, but it sounds strange and unnatural. “I really doubt someone did this on purpose.” “I’m sure no one did. It was probably just an accident. But I’m going to get to the bottom of this, and I need you to be careful.” He reaches out and tilts my chin up with his fingers until I meet his eyes with my own. His expression is dead serious, his eyes hard chips of blue ice, flat and cold. “Promise me.” The way he looks at me…as if he thinks this was intended for me… I’m the one with the limp and supposed bad balance, and if someone knew my habit of going back down to get my second cup of coffee at that time of day, then… No. No, no, no. Why the hell would someone want me to fall overboard? Impossible. And if it was deliberate, who would it have been? Not me or Kyle. Nalani? She clearly doesn’t like me…but she usually treats me with minor disdain, not with some kind of crazy, murderous intent. As much as she dislikes me, I can’t imagine that she’d deliberately hurt anyone on her crew. It’s impossible for me to wrap my head around the idea that she could be that vicious. Ethan? I give him a searching look as he continues to study the deck. There is something weird about him being on the Temptation. It just doesn’t fit. But…no. He was so protective of me when Kyle fell overboard, and why would he have pointed the silicone out if he were the one who put it there? That leaves Mick. But why would Mick want me—or Kyle—to slip overboard? He’s so mild-mannered and just nice. It doesn’t make any sense. None of it makes sense. I shake off the idea, dismissing it as way too paranoid, but then Ethan repeats, “Promise me” in a raspy whisper that arrows straight into me. My heart seems to skip a beat. It all rushes back—him pulling me out of the water, carrying me into the cockpit. The expression on his face when he asked me if I was okay. Holding me as I sobbed into his shoulder. The kiss. Maybe he didn’t pull away because I did something wrong. “I shouldn’t have done that,” he’d said. Maybe he meant he didn’t want to take advantage of my emotional state after I’d cried in his arms over Kyle. That would make sense. I like Ethan a lot. Longing surges through me, leaving my skin warm and tight. But there’s one thing I can’t shake. We’ve only been on the Temptation for a few days. Why has he been so protective of me? Why is he demanding I be careful? He doesn’t even know me. Is it my limp? He’s never given it a second glance or seemed to care about it, but maybe subconsciously he thinks I need special attention because of it? Or is it the fact that I’m young? But Kyle is my age, and Nalani is only a couple of years older, and Ethan’s focus has seemed to home in entirely on me. Maybe there’s nothing else behind it but attraction, plain and simple. Maybe he’s the kind of man who gets super protective of those he cares about. But attraction is different from caring about someone. When he pulled me up from the water, he looked terrified. Like he cared about me. And how can you care about someone to that extent that you’ve only known for a short length of time? And…he rejected me. He pulled away from my kiss, even when he must have known I would have been willing to take it much further…and I still don’t understand why. He makes no sense, and my brain hurts going around in circles like this. My gaze drops to his lips. The lower one is plump, with a slight curve at its bottom. I remember how it felt against my lips, soft, but firm. Purposeful. Ethan’s kiss was erotic, consuming, gentle, and commanding all at the same time. I could have drowned in it. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Ever. But I need to forget it. He doesn’t want me. He thinks touching me was a mistake. I swallow hard and raise my eyes to his once more as his fingers caress my chin. “Promise you’ll be careful, Tara,” he says yet again. “I need you to be careful. I need you to be safe.” “I promise,” I whisper. Justine February 8, 2003 Today, I was hit by a car. Can you believe it? I am so angry. A stupid, idiotic teenage driver hit me! How dare he? I was just riding along, following all the rules of the road, and the asshole just took a right turn…right into me. I swerved, skidded, slammed into the curb. I just lay there for a minute, pinned under my bike, trying to catch my breath. When I caught it, I extricated myself from my bike, rose on shaky legs, and turned to the car, wishing I were one of the X-Men and had the ability to shoot laser beams from my eyes. The guy who hit me got out of his shitty little Honda and headed toward me, a concerned furrow on his stupid, pockmarked brow. “Are you okay?” he asked me. No, I wasn’t okay. I mean, physically, maybe. Fine—a long scrape down my arm, and my shirt was ruined. My hand was a bloody mess. My jeans saved my legs, but something felt off in my right knee—like I might have mildly sprained it. But mentally? Emotionally? No, I was absolutely not okay. I was furious. And when I glanced down at my twisted front wheel and the nasty scratches on the frame of my bike, I was even less okay. I turned on that idiot, and I was about to give him hell. Rage coursed through me. My bloody fingers were itching to wrap around his neck and strangle him. He hurt me. He hurt my bike. He deserved to suffer like he made us suffer. But then…I remembered myself. I’m getting good at that, Dear Diary. Very good indeed. I gulped in a mouthful of air and said, in a tiny, frightened little voice, “I’m okay…I think.” I experimentally flexed my arms and wounded leg as the idiot stared at me dumbly. Then I gave him a sheepish smile, as if I were the one responsible, not him. “Yes. I’m just fine. Thank you.” I thanked him. I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth even as I said them. But I am so proud of myself. If I keep this up, I really am going to be all right. He asked me if he could do anything, give me a ride or something, and I shrugged and gestured toward a sorority building halfway down the street and said, “Nah, I live just over there.” A lie, of course. I was still half a mile away from the dorm. But I wanted him to go away. People were watching us. I don’t like being watched. The moron went away—quickly too—as soon as I gave him permission. Weak, slimy little bastard. I limped home, and I had to carry the front end of my bike, since the wheel no longer rolled. If Daddy had his way, I’d be driven in the limo to school every day. But I don’t want to stand out like that—not here. I want everyone to see me as a normal peer, even though I might be the furthest thing from normal these people have ever seen. Just then, I longed for the limo. I went straight to Ethan’s room, still mauled and bloody. When he opened the door and saw me, his face just…well, it crumpled. All kinds of emotions ran over it in quick succession—fear, anger, concern, pain, empathy. He pulled me inside his room and sat me on his bed. The boy then proceeded to pamper me. He painstakingly cleaned me up—taking every bit of road grime from where it was embedded in my arm—and bandaged me. He got me ice for my twisted knee. He got me a change of clothes from my room. And then he laid me in his bed and held me, burying his face into my hair and breathing me in and saying how seeing me like that scared the crap out of him. How he was glad it wasn’t worse. He asked if I’d gotten the kid’s license plate, and when I said no, he said he’d kill the idiot if he ever found out who he was. That makes two of us, Ethan, my love, I thought. And I wondered, for the zillionth time, why people can say they want to kill someone so flippantly and no one thinks there’s something wrong with them, but when I say it, everyone has a shit fit, and it’s off to “observation” in the psych ward for me. It’s not fair. Anyway. I digress. I have a habit of doing that, Diary. You’ll have to get used to it. We lay there for a long time, and then Ethan started kissing me. We kissed and kissed—I could kiss him all night long. He is such a fantastic kisser. And then I was on my back, and he was on me, still fully dressed, when I pulled away and asked where his roommate was. His roommate was gone for the weekend. Off to the Bay Area to visit Mummy and Daddy. And then Ethan, my brilliant, sweet, handsome, protective Ethan, made love to me. Again and again, from Friday night through Sunday when his roommate returned. I am so happy. Not the exuberant happiness of my first couple of months here, but a bone-deep contented happiness. I’ve never felt like this before, Diary. I am in love. Chapter Five Dinner on the Temptation that night is awkward, and the conversations are short and terse. While I stare down at my spaghetti, Ethan talks about the silicone on the deck, and everyone claims to have no idea how it got there. Nalani is still mad at me, and as soon as she finishes her food, she strides off and heads onto the deck to finish up her watch. Mick’s gaze follows her as she leaves, his brow raised, and the rest of us sit around the table in uncomfortable quiet for a couple of minutes. Then Kyle turns to me. “She wants you to apologize.” I make a scoffing noise. Maybe I’m a messed-up, insecure social misfit, but I am not going to apologize for trying to save Kyle’s life. No way. “For what? Making sure I got to you in time?” Kyle grins. “Well, when you put it that way…” “Try telling her that,” I grumble. Kyle raises his hands. “Hey, I’m not taking sides. I know better than to get between two pissed-off women.” “I’m not pissed off.” Only frustrated by her holier-than-thou behavior and her refusal to see my point of view. Okay. Maybe a little pissed off. “You don’t have to apologize to her,” Ethan says. I gesture at him and speak to Kyle. “See? Listen to the man. He knows what he’s talking about.” “You reacted on raw instinct,” Ethan continues. “Your gut told you what to do.” He’s right. Nalani’s rules never even crossed my mind. “But sometimes the gut isn’t right,” Mick points out. “That’s why they have procedures to begin with.” “Maybe,” I say, “but there was nothing that could have made me think of them at that moment. Even if you and Nalani were on deck shouting instructions into my ear, I don’t think I would have heard them.” “Well, thank fuck for your gut,” Kyle declares. “Without it, I might be dead instead of having the headache from hell.” That sobers me. Hearing Kyle talking about dying makes me nauseous. We finish eating, and Kyle and I clean up while Mick heads down to his cabin and Ethan goes to the desk next to the sofa to work. “So Williams was all over you earlier,” Kyle says in a low voice as he hands me a plate to dry. Shit. I’d hoped Kyle was feeling too sick to notice that. I don’t want to talk about this right now, not with Kyle or anyone. It’s too confusing. “What was that about?” he asks. I glance over my shoulder. Behind us, Ethan frowns at his computer as he types, deep in concentration, and there are earbuds in his ears. He can’t hear us. “Nothing,” I mumble. Hopefully Kyle doesn’t see the lie on my face, but I’ve always been an open book to him. He releases a low whistle. “Oh shit, T. You like him.” I mutter something in the affirmative. A denial at this point would make Kyle even more suspicious. I don’t elaborate, though. I don’t tell him how incredibly sexy and attractive I think Ethan is. I do not tell him about the kiss. “So…you think he’s hot?” I make a noncommittal noise. “Hotter than me?” Kyle asks slyly. I laugh, then smack him with my towel. “Different from you.” “Ow!” “What? Don’t be a wuss. I didn’t hit your head.” “The pain traveled directly to my skull,” he moans, rubbing the back of his head. “Liar.” He makes a grumbling noise and plunges his hands into the soapy water to attack the spaghetti-sauce pan. After a moment of silence, he says, “So. You want to bang him.” “Kyle!” I growl through gritted teeth, turning wide, warning eyes on him. “You do! You do want to bang him!” Kyle taunts. “You want to have hot-monkey-hanging-off-the-chandelier sex with him. I see it in your eyes.” I push his shoulder hard and hiss, “Stop it!” I glance back at Ethan again. He’s still focused on his computer, thank God. Kyle raises his dripping, soapy hands in surrender. “Hey, hey! Just sayin’.” “Well, don’t. Anyway, there are no chandeliers on this vessel,” I say, trying to keep the mood light. “Anyway, I don’t think I’m his type.” I close my eyes, wishing I hadn’t said the last bit. I remember his expression after we kissed. Maybe I am his type. If not, why did he kiss me? There was something there… Something between us. The question was, how deeply did Ethan feel it? Did he feel it at all, or was I reading the signals all wrong? I have no idea. I’m no expert in reading signals. But the signal he sent when he pulled away from that kiss was loud and clear: I made a mistake. I regret this. This can’t happen again. Kyle seems reflective, and after washing another plate, he gives me a sidelong glance, now completely serious. “So this is new for you. Are you ready?” “Ready for what? To think a guy is hot? Why not?” I feel guilty, like not telling him exactly what happened between Ethan and me this afternoon is some sort of betrayal. Kyle is my best friend, and he’s a brother to me in every way but blood, but he’s also a man. Telling him about the kiss, and how Ethan stopped it… I don’t want to share my humiliation with Kyle, but it’s more than that. Instinct tells me it wouldn’t be a good idea, that it would piss him off. And right now, there’s no point in adding weirdness to Kyle and Ethan’s relationship. They’re friendly with each other, but Kyle has no compunctions about being an ass to anyone he feels might have hurt me. “You haven’t looked at anyone like that in a long time. Not since Daniel,” Kyle says. My lips tighten at the mention of my ex. He’s right, though—I haven’t given a man a second glance since Daniel broke up with me. But that wasn’t just because of Daniel. It was because of the crash, mostly, and Emily’s death, and then the convenience-store robbery… “So…you’re finally recovered from all that shit that asshole laid on you?” “It was more than Daniel, and you know it,” I say. “But it’s been a year and a half.” Since Daniel. Since the accident. “I need to get past it.” “Damn.” He shakes his head. He keeps his eyes on the plate he’s washing. “A year and a half. It doesn’t seem like that long.” “Sometimes it doesn’t to me either.” Sometimes it seems like it’s been forever, though, like my life has been contained within a bubble of fear and depression and grief for eternity. Kyle hands me the plate. “What do you know about Williams?” “Not too much,” I admit. “I didn’t either, so I poked around on the Internet. He’s prominent in the business world.” My smile is dry. “I figured that one out already. The part about him owning a venture capital firm was kind of a dead giveaway.” “Right. But he’s got a lot of money, T.” “I figured.” “No…I mean a lot.” He gives me a hard look, then says, more quietly, “A lot.” “Okay,” I say slowly. Of course Ethan has money. I’m not poor myself—my parents were wealthy. When they died, they left Emily and me with hefty trust funds. Em was a big spender, but when she died, what was left of her money went to me. My financial manager invests it and sends me cash on occasion. I try to avoid thinking about it otherwise; there are too many painful memories attached to all that wealth. Kyle knows about my money. So when he says “a lot” in that tone, he’s talking way more than the couple of million my parents and Em left to me. He’s talking eight, maybe nine figures. “Anyway,” Kyle continues, “he’s young, single, and stinking rich, so the press is, naturally, curious about him.” “Naturally.” Not to mention that he’s just about the hottest guy on the planet, and I definitely can’t be the only person in the world who thinks so. In any case, I’ve had my run-ins with the press myself, thanks to my mom and Em’s choice of profession. They were both always in the limelight, and they loved it. Me, on the other hand… I hate the paparazzi. I hate how they followed Emily and me around after my mom and dad died. I hate how they were waiting outside the hospital when I was discharged after Emily died. “He started making a digital footprint about seven years ago,” Kyle continues, “when he started Williams Funding. Even so, his ‘personal life’ subcategory on Wikipedia is empty. There’s one picture of him with a girl—some debutante or something—from eight years ago. It’s scattered all over various sites—always the same picture. But since then, nothing. He’s probably gay and in the closet.” Securing a dish in the overhead cabinet, I snort. The cabinets have latches on them, and the dishes get organized in slots so they don’t jostle and break with the motion of the boat. “He’s not gay.” “How do you know?” Kyle challenges. “I just know. Trust me, he’s not gay. He’s probably just a private person. Some prominent people do manage to keep their private lives out of the public eye, you know.” “Right.” He sounds unconvinced as he hands me the last of the silverware to dry. “Just be careful.” His lips twist, his expression hardens, and I’m really glad I didn’t tell him about the kiss. “I don’t trust him.” “Why not?” I think of the slick on the deck and grit my teeth. Could there be something to Kyle’s distrust? Could Ethan have put the silicone there with the intention of causing me or Kyle to fall overboard? No. No way. Someone must have accidentally spilled the silicone without noticing. We use silicone in several different areas on the Temptation, so, really, there’s nothing odd about it at all. It was an accident. That’s all there is to it. I haven’t told Kyle about Ethan’s suspicion. He’d probably laugh all the way to Hawaii. “He looks like the kind of guy who eats girls for dinner, then spits them out before the sun rises.” I roll my eyes. “You mean like you?” “Hey”—he’s focused on me and completely serious now—“stay away from him, T. I’m not kidding.” “You’re being ridiculous.” “No, I’m not fucking being ridiculous. I don’t want you to get hurt.” I stare at him long enough to see that he’s dead serious, then I dry the silverware. In the end, it’s possible Kyle’s right. Men like Ethan Williams can have anyone they want. Those kinds of men just aren’t into women like me, and when they are, it’s rarely anything more than a passing thing. I don’t want to be Ethan’s passing interest. I want to be his only interest. And that thought scares the hell out of me. * * * * * After we finish the dishes, Kyle joins Nalani out on the deck. When they start to make out on the trampoline, I turn away quickly, because that is one image I’ll need to scrub from my brain. All is quiet from Mick’s cabin. He spends a lot of time on his tablet IMing and e-mailing. He e-mails his kids daily, but he must have a girlfriend or something back at home, and that’s why he’s so obsessive about checking his messages. Then again, maybe he’s telling someone about his nefarious plans to make people slip and fall to their deaths overboard. Geez, I really need to stop thinking about this. I wish Ethan hadn’t put the idea into my head. Mick is a nice guy, a good sailor, a man who loves his family. I’ve already decided the silicone slick was an accident. But, as irrational as it is, fear still niggles at me. Trying to push it away, I curl up in the corner of the vinyl L-shaped couch and open up my iPad to my latest biography, this one on Gandhi. Ethan sits at the chart table typing on his laptop, and I covertly study him over the top of the iPad. There’s something about watching him work. It’s so sexy. He studies the laptop screen with laser precision, his hands moving gracefully over his keyboard. He has the long-fingered hands of a surgeon. Like my dad’s hands. The thought gives me a jolt. I turn back to my iPad and stare down at it, but it’s not long before my gaze wanders back to Ethan. He picks up the satellite phone and dials. It takes a while for him to connect, but when he does, his tone borders on annoyance. “Donna, it’s Ethan. Can you please compress the FireStart documents and resend? I can’t receive large files out here.” He pauses. “Good. I’ll be waiting. And what’s happening on Baston? Has it closed?” Another pause, then he mutters “Fuck” under his breath, but when he resumes talking on the phone, his tone is tersely professional. “Call him in the morning and tell him we can conference on the twenty-seventh. What was that? Okay, fine. And have Michaels call me tomorrow afternoon. Can you repeat that, please?” He shakes the phone a bit, as if that’ll help him to hear. “All right, that’ll work. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He hangs up, stares at the phone in disgust for a second, then he must feel my gaze on him, because he turns toward me. “Who’s Donna?” I ask casually. “My assistant.” I raise a brow and check the time on my iPad. “Your assistant is working at nine o’clock at night?” “Donna is a good assistant. I usually don’t place these kinds of demands on her time, but since I’m not in the office right now…” He shrugs. The impulse to get off the couch and move closer to him is powerful. The guy is like a magnet to me. A shiver pulses through me at the memory of his kiss, and my gaze zeroes in on his lips. He looks so remote, sitting there with his computer in front of him. And even though he’s just a few feet away, it feels like there are worlds between us. My own lips press into a self-conscious smile. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to disturb you.” “You’re not disturbing me.” He lowers the lid on his laptop. “I was just finishing up. That is, until Donna sends me some e-mails.” He rises, stretches, and moves to sit beside me. My core muscles go stiff, resisting the natural inclination to lean toward his body. Warmth emanates from him, and the smells of soap and man surround me. Salt tinges his scent now. We’re all bathing in salt water, so we’ve all started to smell like the ocean too. Ethan slips his arm across my back and squeezes my shoulder. “Are you okay?” I think of all that happened today, of Kyle and my terror over losing him, and my reaction to Nalani. And the kiss that Ethan ended without telling me the reason why. “Sure,” I say lightly, looking him in the eye. “Tara…” Heat emanates off him in waves, like a shimmer off the road in a desert summer. His eyes are dark and unreadable. He gazes at me for a long moment, and I know it’s coming. He’s going to kiss me again. Yes. I want this. I want it so bad. Instinctively, my tongue darts out to lick my top lip. Abruptly, Ethan stops leaning toward me and jerks back. He draws in a shaky breath but keeps his arm around me, his fingers tightening over my shoulder. No. Don’t stop. Please don’t stop. “God,” he says in a rough whisper. “You’re so beautiful.” I blink, frozen in surprise except for the crazy fluttering of my lashes. I can’t speak either. My throat has closed in on itself. His hand moves to cup my cheek. He strokes his thumb over the side of my face. “Do you know what you’re doing to me?” What? God…what am I doing to him? But I know. Some deep, essential part of me knows…can see it in the heat in his eyes, the tightness in his expression. He wants me. I lean into his palm. I can’t help it. “I shouldn’t do this,” he whispers roughly. “I really shouldn’t. But it’s fucking impossible to stay away from you.” All at once, he closes the distance between us. He presses me against the leather back of the sofa, then he angles his head, and his mouth covers mine. My body lights up so fast, dizziness swamps me. A solid, shimmering, needy heat surrounds me, permeates me, goes deep inside me until, just seconds later, I’m panting with desire. “You taste so sweet,” he murmurs over my lips. I whimper, so out of control—as if I’ve been missing some essential nutrient in my diet, and he’s providing it. No, that’s not enough. I’m like a junkie. He’s not a nutrient; he’s a drug. He cups my cheek in his palm as he kisses me again. His hand’s so warm, I press my face into it. But then his lips gently release mine. My lids flutter open, and I look at him, my arms still clamped tight around him. “Shit,” he murmurs, and turmoil sweeps through his expression. How can I make it go away? How can I make him want me without all these reservations I don’t understand? He doesn’t let me go; instead, he cradles my cheeks in both his hands, tilting my head up so I face him, and his gaze locks on to mine. “Shit. Shit. Fuck.” His voice is quiet, a complete contrast to the harshness of the words. I feel like my toes are dangling off the edge of a precipice, and he’s about to push me over. His fingers tighten over my cheeks. “You’re so damn young,” he whispers gruffly. He’s twenty-nine. I’ll be twenty-two in two months. That makes him only about seven years older than me, not really old enough to call me “so damn young.” He holds me there, balanced on that edge…of what, I don’t know. Whatever is over that cliff is dangerous, but a part of me wants to leap into that danger and not glance back. “You tempt me. So much. You’re so…” He pulls back abruptly and runs a hand roughly through his hair. He looks shaken, like he did when he pulled me out of the water. “Fuck.” “I don’t understand.” My gaze remains locked on him. Yesterday, I probably would have blushed and turned away, but today, Kyle almost drowned, and I’m different. Stronger. “You need to explain this to me.” Quietly, I add, “I deserve an explanation, Ethan.” He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, as if he can’t bear to keep the eye contact a second longer. Then sentences snap out of him like firecrackers, his body straightening, growing more tense with each one. “You’re fucking beautiful. You’re smart and sweet. You’re so damned loyal. You make a man want to protect you with everything he’s worth. But you’ve got to understand…this can’t happen.” “You’re giving me mixed signals”—my voice is quiet and steady—“and that’s not fair to me. You talk to me, then avoid me. You treat me like a stranger, then like someone you want to sleep with. You kiss me, then you act like you don’t want to touch me—” The expression on his face is bleak—so bleak my heart clenches. “I’m sorry,” he says gruffly. “I know I’m being an asshole.” He makes a low, growling sound that seems to come from deep in his chest. “I want you. A…a whole hell of a lot. But I can’t do this. It’s wrong to do this. I can’t—” He breaks off abruptly. “Why?” I demand, but something clenches in my chest. God...maybe he has a girlfriend back in California... He pulls farther back from me, and I sense his withdrawal, that door slamming shut on me yet again. Coldness spreads in my chest. “Is there someone else? Someone in LA?” He blows out a heavy sigh. “No. There’s no one else.” “Then why…?” My hands flail in a frustrated gesture. “I can’t be in a relationship, not now.” I shake my head, because that’s a lame line. “Not now, and not ever,” he clarifies. “A relationship just isn’t in the cards for me. I don’t do them, and I never will.” “A kiss doesn’t make a relationship,” I say quietly. “It’s just a kiss.” It’s just sex. Or, it could be… His deep inhalation pulls the T-shirt taut across his broad chest. “You don’t know anything about me. And I guarantee there are things you don’t want to know. Trust me when I say I’m no good for you.” He slides a single finger down the side of my face. “It’s not you. I promise you that. It’s me.” Oh God, the lines are coming hard and fast now. It’s the old it’s not you, it’s me brush-off. I feel like I’m spiraling into a B-grade movie. “If things were different”—his scorching blue eyes set fire to every single inch of my skin—“you’d be in my bed tonight.” That’s exactly where I want to be... If things were different. If he wasn’t jerking me around. I don’t speak. I press my lips together to stop myself from saying something I might regret. The way he’s looking at me...it’s the first time I’ve seen the tiniest bit of vulnerability in his expression, and I want to melt...I want to accept anything he tells me... No. Grabbing on to a scrap of pride that seems to be blowing away in the breeze, I clutch it tight and hold it close. He’s messing with my head. He might not mean to, but he is. I straighten, pulling back from him a few inches. My lips tighten, and my eyes narrow. It’s annoying how he simply assumes he is the only one with the power to decide whether I’ll be in his bed. “Don’t be so sure about that,” I tell him flatly. “If I go into your bed—it’s going to be my choice. Not yours.” He stares at me hard, then tilts his head in acknowledgment. “Of course.” We both know my bravado is nothing more than hot air. “I want to be your friend, Tara.” I gaze at him for a moment, then nod. “Sure.” Right. “Shit.” He closes his eyes again, then opens them. “I’m not doing this right. I didn’t expect this. It’s thrown me off.” Me too. I can’t stop staring at his face. Thinking how hot he is. Thinking how I want to touch it everywhere…with my lips. “Don’t look at me like that,” he growls. “Like what?” I whisper. “Like you want to eat me alive.” Well, too bad. I do. But he’s not going to let that happen. I bring my hands up to my face and cover it, breathing into my palms. And all of a sudden, I just want to be alone. I rise from the sofa and stand just as the Temptation tilts forward, slipping down the backside of a wave. Adjusting my stance so I don’t tumble over, I take in my surroundings for the first time since Ethan came to sit beside me. Kyle and Nalani’s conversation drones outside. There’s movement near the stairs leading down to the starboard bunks, and I glance over there quickly. No one’s there. But it feels like ants are skittering down the back of my neck. Was Mick listening in on our conversation? Ethan gets up, and it looks like shutters are closing over his eyes. The heat in them fades to a simmer and then flattens until his gaze is completely unreadable. Impenetrable. It’s the expression he had on the phone with Donna. It’s the expression he uses on me when he’s digging that chasm between us. I already know that expression too well. He gazes into my eyes, cool and distant. “As I said, I don’t do relationships. And that’s what you need. Someone who’ll be there for you. That’s not me.” Kyle told me about how Ethan hasn’t been photographed with a woman for eight years. Has he not had a girlfriend for eight years? “But why?” He doesn’t answer. The most he’ll give me is a shake of his head. I want to pull out my hair in frustration. It seems simple: I want him. He knows it. He said he wanted me too. Then why not act on it? All this “I don’t do relationships” crap—who cares? This isn’t a happily ever after. This is just being together. He’s being presumptuous to think he knows what’s best for me, anyway. There’s no way he could possibly know what I need. A thought slams into me. While my nature is to care about people I’m physically close to, maybe I can switch that part of myself off. I want to be with Ethan, and if I enter into a physical relationship with my eyes wide open, then there will be no concern of bringing emotions and thoughts of “relationships” into it. Our time together is limited anyway. There’s no reason this needs to go beyond the time parameters of this trip. I can do it. I can control this. I want to do it. “You’re wrong about me.” The steel hardens in my own eyes. “In a few weeks, I’m going to be starting a new job, and I want to focus on that. But we’re out in the middle of the ocean, and this isn’t the real world. We can do whatever we want out here—be whatever we want to be.” The shutters over his eyes fly open suddenly, and there’s a storm raging behind them. “Do you think I haven’t thought about that?” he grits out, taking a step closer to me. Energy bristles from him. “But what happens when we go home? We go our separate ways, back to our lives? It’s not going to be that easy, Tara, and you know it. I don’t want to hurt you, damn it.” I want this—want him—so badly, I’m going to fight for a chance. I’ll wash my hands of him and go on with my life when we get back to LA. I can do that—I know I can. “You’re not going to hurt me, because I understand what you’re saying. I understand that this can’t continue once we’re home, and that you don’t want a relationship. I get it. I don’t need or want a relationship either. I have a life to go back to in LA, too. But for now, I want you, Ethan.” He closes his eyes and makes a low noise that sounds like a groan. “Give me two weeks.” In two weeks’ time, we’ll be in Hawaii, and he’ll probably be heading home. I remember that night at the convenience store a year ago—how leaving home and walking down the block was the bravest thing I’d done since the accident. But it doesn’t even hold a candle to this. This is the bravest thing I’ve ever done—before or after the accident. I’ve thrown myself out there, laid myself out as some kind of a temporary offering. But that’s exactly what I want, and I’m going after it. Where did this assertive Tara come from? I like her. My face is blazing hot. Tiny shudders skitter over my skin from my toes to my hair. But I know he wants me. And judging by the look on his face, my offer has tempted him. He stares at me, his expression torn. Then his lips tighten, the shutters over his eyes slam shut once again, and pain stabs at me, bitter and cold, in my chest. I know what his next words are going to be. “I can’t. I’m sorry.” He turns and walks away. Chapter Six I’ve kept quiet for the past five days, avoiding Ethan whenever possible. Avoiding everyone—even Kyle and his inevitable questions. When I’m not on watch, I spend most of my time down in my cabin reading biographies and romances and trying not to think about what could have been—if Ethan wasn’t so damned convinced being with me was such a bad idea. Still, he surrounds me. Everywhere I go, I see him. Feel him. There is no escape. And I hate it. I have begun to keep track of the miles we have left, counting the moments until I can be away from him. Even then, though, a fear niggles within me that I will never be free of this man. That some part of me has been marked by him. Branded somehow. I can’t let that happen. I need to scrub him away. Getting away from him is the first step in that. But I can’t get away. I’m stuck here, like an animal in a cage with watery bars. There’s no way out. Tonight, the air is quiet as I sit on the trampoline on watch. There’s only a light breeze, and the ocean has been calm, the waves rolling ever so gently beneath the catamaran as if sensing my fragile state of mind. It’s my own fault—I put Ethan in a position where he could hurt me, and he did. It was so stupid. Even stupider because I convinced myself I could avoid an emotional attachment if Ethan agreed to be with me. He didn’t agree to be with me, and I’m already hurt. It’s late, almost one in the morning. I take off my PFD and lay it beside me before stretching out on my back on the trampoline. Ethan is on watch with me, but he’s keeping his distance, just as he has been for the past few days. As always, though, I’m very aware of where he is and what he’s doing. Right now, he’s in the captain’s chair at the wheel. From his position, he has a good view of me lying on the trampoline. He’s watching me. I sense his gaze on me without a glance in his direction. This adds an edge of anger to my hurt. When he rejected me, he gave up the right to look at me. But he hasn’t stopped looking. Even from a distance, he drinks me in with his gaze, and the heat in his eyes warms me to the core. My own treacherous body responds to him, as much as I order it to ignore him. The night is alight with stars. Who knew there were so many stars in the sky? On cloudless nights, there’s none of the flat darkness in the sky out here like in LA. Instead, the stars shine so brightly, the whole sky glows in a silvery-purple hue. It’s beautiful. A shooting star streaks above me. A wish… I should make a wish, shouldn’t I? Once, when I was twelve and Emily was seventeen, Aunt Jo took us camping. Em and I went outside our tent and lay on the picnic table gazing up at the stars, searching for a shooting star. And then, both of us saw it, just over the treetops. Em said I needed to make a wish, because that’s what you do with shooting stars. I squeezed my eyes shut and wished for my parents back. For them to be alive and with us. When I opened my eyes again, Em was watching me. “What did you wish for?” she’d asked. I shrugged. “It’s a secret. What’d you wish for?” She gave a dramatic sigh. “That Jason Krakowski will invite me to prom.” I was glad I hadn’t told her my wish. Of course, my parents hadn’t come back. And four boys asked Emily to prom, but Jason Krakowski wasn’t one of them. I don’t wish on this shooting star. Those wishes don’t come true. It has been a long few days, but Kyle’s okay, and so am I. I don’t need Ethan Williams. I’ve been all right on my own for a while now. But you haven’t been all right, that annoying voice inside my head says. You’ve been anything but all right. The last year and a half is a blur of schoolwork and depression. I needed antianxiety meds to cope in the daytime and to sleep at night. Is that surviving? Maybe not. Now, though, I’m not on anything. I’m stronger. I can survive. I need Kyle but not Ethan. I’m attracted to him—okay, not just attracted, infatuated. Yet we’ve only known each other for a short time. You can’t need someone after knowing them for only a week and a half. A shuffling movement comes from the direction of the navigation area. It’s Ethan, of course. Without trying to—without wanting to—I track his every movement whenever he’s near. The trampoline grows taut beneath me as he steps on it. He sits beside me and stares up at the sky for a moment. Just having him this close washes heat over my skin. He’s spoken to me over the past few days, of course. It’s unavoidable. He’s put on the mask of the unflinchingly polite gentleman again. He turns to me and asks quietly, “Are you okay?” This is the most personal question he’s asked me in days. I give him a tight smile. “I’ve been through worse.” “Yeah.” There’s a gruff edge of emotion in his voice. He doesn’t know the half of it. I told him about my parents, but not about Em and the accident and the cause of my limp. He doesn’t know that I was almost killed in a convenience-store shooting, and that the only reason I’m lying here right now is because of a Good Samaritan who took a bullet for me. Ethan lies beside me, stretching his tall form out next to mine. He’s large, and his weight makes the trampoline dip. My muscles tighten so my body doesn’t roll toward him. “Look at the stars,” he murmurs. “I know.” “I never thought I’d find it so peaceful out here.” “What did you think sailing across the ocean would be like?” “Dangerous,” he answers. “Uncomfortable. Miserable, actually.” I turn to him, raising a brow. “Really?” He nods. “Then why did you come? I know you said it was something you needed to do. But if you thought it would be dangerous, uncomfortable, and miserable, then why?” He laughs quietly, but he doesn’t answer. Fine. By now I know how private he is. I stare at the stars brightening the sky. Below us, the Temptation dips and rolls. All is silent except for the gentle slosh of water against the hull. “Tara,” he murmurs. His tone draws my gaze. He turns fully onto his side, propping his head up on his hand as he watches me. “Yes?” “Have you ever been on a runaway train?” I give a soft snort. “That’s what I feel like I’m on right now.” My lips twitch up, but they don’t quite make it to a smile. “Then put on the brakes, and you’ll stop moving before you crash.” “It’s not that easy.” “Why not?” “Because… I’ve tried to stop it since I… Since the first moment I saw you on that ramp and every day since then. But it isn’t going to work. I’ve tried, and... And I can’t.” He swallows hard, but his gaze doesn’t leave mine, not for a second. My heart starts to pound. Emotions grab at me, excitement and fear and hope, along with a sharp edge of anger. “You’ve been doing a fine job of it for the past few days.” He reaches out and touches my cheek. It’s just the gentlest touch, but it sends a bolt of electricity through me. “No. I’ve been doing a shit job of it. I’m good at pretending, but if you knew what was going on in my head—” He breaks off abruptly. After a quiet moment, he adds, “I can’t stop it. I can’t ignore it. Trying to is only going to make me crazy. So I’m done trying.” Oh… My mouth goes dry. Out of all the things I expected him to say when he sat beside me, this is definitely not one of them. He’s flip-flopped again. Again! Just when I was telling myself everything was going to be okay without him, he’s telling me he wants back in. It’s too late. No, damn it. No, it’s not too late. I might be weak, but it’ll probably never be too late for Ethan when it comes to me. Have I lost all sense of myself that I can say, Oh, it’s okay that you hurt me, and just throw myself back into his arms? I look back up at the sky as if begging the heavens for an answer. For strength. Why am I so drawn to this man, who has pretty much guaranteed that things can’t go anywhere between us? Why this perverse need to cling to him, hold on, and never let him go? I don’t even know him! Still, I cling to sanity, even though it’s slipping rapidly away. “You said it would be a bad idea.” “I know. And it is. But I…can’t stop it.” A tight, sarcastic laugh bursts out of me. “Way to make a girl feel good about herself, Williams.” “I’ve told you again and again that it’s a bad idea. I’m being honest. There are things about me—” “That you don’t want me to know. I know.” “It can’t last.” “You’ve made that abundantly clear.” “We have about a week,” he says quietly. “Then two more weeks in Honolulu.” I slant him a glance. “How did you know I was staying in Honolulu for two weeks?” He shrugs. “I think you mentioned it, didn’t you? Maybe it was Kyle. The thing is, I was planning to stay awhile in Honolulu too.” A scoff bursts out of me. “And I’m supposed to feel…what? Honored that you’re offering me two extra weeks of your perfection before you dump me?” He shifts, and the next thing I know, he’s over me, his face so close I can see the blue flecks in his narrowed eyes. My body demands I grab him and pull him down over me and kiss him until neither of us remembers where we are. “You don’t get it,” he says in a harsh whisper. “I want to spend more than a week with you. I want to spend more than three weeks with you. But I told you, it can’t happen. You need to know that. If I can only have you for three weeks…I can’t resist. I can’t stop it. I’ll take what I can get. I want to give you pleasure, and I want to take pleasure from you. I want to learn everything about you. Taste every inch of you. Take you in every possible way. But at the end of that three weeks, I have to walk away, understand? I don’t want to, but I’ll have to. I’ll have to.” Even though he said them twice, and with emphasis, the last three words hardly register. The rest of it, though. Learning me. Tasting me. Taking me in every possible way… Oh God. It’s all I can do not to surge up into him. But some tiny grain of sanity remains, because I say, “And what about me?” “You’ll need to walk away too. But I can promise you one thing.” “What’s that?” “You won’t regret our time together.” Silence. Then I breathe out, “Promise?” “I promise.” Another silence, this one longer. Then, quietly, I say, “Ok—” Before the word has left my mouth completely, he’s kissing me. His lips are warm, and they taste like him, of heat and man and strength, and I wrap my arms around him and open to his erotic assault. His tongue sweeps inside my mouth as if he’s sweeping away every memory of anyone else. His body sinks lower over mine, and little fires light my skin from the top to the bottom. He’s solid over me, hard and strong. My hands roam over his front, over his shirt, exploring every dip and valley of his muscular torso. Then my fingers run over his arms, from his wrists up to his shoulder, feeling every solid muscle, his powerful triceps and thick biceps. There’s nothing soft about him—he’s all muscle and strength, hard lines and sharp angles. His strength seems to seep into me with him so close. With a little moan, I arch up into him, my arms slipping around his lower back and tugging him closer. His fingers dig into my hair, and his kiss deepens as more of his weight presses on me. He moves subtly against me, and I can feel his arousal against my thigh. My excitement ratchets upward, an almost unbearable pressure tightening my abdomen. “Please,” I whisper against his lips. He draws back. “You’re saying yes?” “Yes,” I gasp. “Yes right now, or yes for the next three weeks?” “Yes right now.” He hesitates, hovering over me. I add, “And yes for the next three weeks.” His sigh of relief washes over my cheek. He presses his forehead to mine. “God. I want you so much.” I want him too. So much. He kisses me again. We kiss for long minutes, exploring each other with hands and lips and tongues. Finally he draws back. We’re both breathing hard, and we lie there, trading breaths for a few seconds. Then, he murmurs, “Your watch is almost over.” “Already?” His laugh is a puff of air against my cheek. “Yeah. Kyle will be out here in a few minutes to take your place.” Kyle. He told me he didn’t trust Ethan and to stay away from him. He’d hate the agreement Ethan and I made tonight. He’ll worry I’m going to get hurt. And right now, I don’t want to deal with placating him. “I don’t want Kyle to know,” I say. “Not yet, anyway.” “Okay,” he responds easily. “I’d rather he didn’t know either. He’s not going to like it.” “What makes you say that?” “Just a feeling.” He shrugs, then adds, “I don’t want anyone to know. It’s between us. It’s private. One thing you need to know about me, Tara—privacy is very, very important to me. I was probably right, then, when I guessed that the reason he hasn’t been photographed with a woman in eight years is because he’s a private man. But he’s right. This is a tenuous, new thing between us, and it’s personal. We’re stuck with the other people on this boat, always in close proximity. There’s no walking away if things get weird. I don’t want to deal with their whispers, innuendo, or their judgments. It’s hard to maintain privacy in this small a space, but not impossible. Ethan draws farther back, watching me. I run my teeth over my bottom lip, thinking about asking him to join me in my bunk when his watch is over in two hours. But then he trails several little kisses over my cheekbone, and says, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” I’m already warm and eager, so ready for him. My body’s excitement at being so close to this man is a mystery to me. I’ve never felt anything like it. “Okay.” Can he read the disappointment in my tone? Maybe, because he murmurs, “I’m going to dream about you tonight and think about you all day. I’m going to watch you and drink you in from a distance. It’s going to kill me to keep my hands off you. But I will, because I want to enjoy every bit of you tomorrow.” I want to enjoy every bit of him too. I want to see him naked and explore every inch of him. I want to feel him over me again, his lips and hands on me. And I want to feel him inside me. He turns to the side, bracing his body on one forearm. He cups my cheek with his free hand, then runs it down over my neck, then my collarbone, and over my breast. He pauses there, curving his palm around the bottom of it and running his thumb over my nipple. Even through the material of my T-shirt and bra, the sensation makes me groan. “You like that, baby?” he murmurs, his lips nuzzling my earlobe. “Yes,” I whisper. He plays with my nipple until I can’t hold still anymore. Until the pleasure radiates out from my breast and clenches my core and heats my limbs. Until I’m panting and writhing. He touches me—just one breast—making me climb, higher and higher, until I’m trembling at the edge and on the verge of toppling over. I squirm against him, wanting—needing—to fall. Needing that release. But even as I pant for more, his movements gentle. I open my eyes to see him gazing at me, his expression so intense, so hot I moan. “God, you’re responsive.” His whisper is rough, and I press my body against him, rubbing against the hard line of his erection. I’ve never been responsive before. Sex with Daniel always left me a little cold. My self-consciousness with him made it hard for me to get turned-on enough to enjoy it. I never came without help from my hand while I was with him. With Ethan…he is the fuel that makes me combustible. Within a few feet of him, I’m already hot and ready. Open for him. Wanting him. And just the sensation of him touching my breast almost made me come. God. I can’t even begin to imagine how it’ll feel to actually have sex with him. “Kyle is going to be here any second. I need to take you to your cabin.” He presses his body against mine briefly, then he pulls back, and this time his withdrawal is complete. I bite back a shudder at the sudden coldness of the air washing over me. He stands and holds out his hand to help me up. I take it, and we stand there, hand in hand, our legs adjusting to the movement of the boat as we gaze at each other. The look he’s giving me makes me shudder. Because there’s a tenderness, a softness there I haven’t seen in him, or anyone, before. And it makes me melt inside. “Three weeks?” “Three weeks,” I agree, nodding solemnly. Three weeks. I can do this. I will do it. He blows out a soft breath. “Thank you. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything more than three weeks with you.” He leans down and kisses me; one tender, slow kiss on the lips. I want to ask, Why me? but I don’t. I just stare at him, and I know what he sees. He sees a girl who’s gazing at him with stars in her eyes. Justine January 2, 2004 Ethan has come to the house to spend a few days with Daddy and me before the spring term starts. I wanted him to stay during all of winter break, of course, but Ethan is very attached to his mom—too attached, if you ask me. So he insisted on spending Christmas in the hovel Jean lives in. Seriously, Diary, it is a hovel. It’s a studio apartment in the worst part of San Jose. When I came by to pick him up, so many questionable characters lurked around, I was positive I was going to be mugged any second. And his mom…sigh. She’s just so…drab. I wonder how she spawned the perfection that is Ethan. She’s a sad shadow of a woman, and the only time she lights up is when she lays eyes on her son. Ethan treats her with an utter devotion and respect that I can’t understand. How did she earn that kind of love from him? I don’t know how she ever earned it—I mean, look at her house! Anyway…all of it makes me a little jealous. I won’t tell the world this, Dear Diary, but I’ll tell you. I’ve been with Ethan for over a year now, and over the past several months, the truth has become abundantly clear. Ethan is mine. If anyone—even his mom—tried to take him from me, I don’t know what I’d do. But that’s the irritating part of my winter break, Diary, and thankfully it’s over. Now comes the good part, and it’s this: Daddy and Ethan love each other! No, really, they do. They hit it off immediately. You see, Ethan is like a sponge at school, absorbing anything and everything he finds remotely interesting. Well, he finds Daddy extremely interesting. My father has had a hand in three startups since I was a little girl, and all three have been insanely successful. Hence, our money. Our six cars, our housekeeping and driving staff, my prep school education, my admission to Stanford (though I’m not going to lie and say it had nothing to do with my genius), my designer everything, our eleven-point-two-million-dollar house. My father is one of the wealthiest men in America, and I’ve always had the best of everything. I’m not ashamed to say it’s because we’re rich. I love every bit of Daddy’s success and am happy to reap the benefits. As the only child of a widower tech mogul, I’m very spoiled. I’m my father’s brilliant and beautiful daughter, and I play the part well despite the little situations I’ve gotten myself into over the years. I’ve got the man wrapped around my little finger, and in return, I adore him. I’d do anything for him. And I adore Ethan too, obviously, which is why this turn of events excites me so much. On that first night, when the three of us sat at the end of the dining room table and Maria served us our filet mignon, they spoke passionately about my father’s brand-new startup, Triton Technologies, a business that revolutionizes hard drive technology, among other things. Ethan was fascinated. He asked question after question—and they weren’t stupid questions; they were intelligent and thought-provoking, and Daddy was impressed. I’m glad for both of them. The business side of the tech business isn’t my forte. I’m all about digging deep into the code—all the way to its core. I love to get to the nitty-gritty of algorithms and then manipulating them. You should see the secret project I’m working on now, Diary. Spyware that piggybacks onto virus-protection software. Beta testing is going well. Mostly, I just love the irony of it. I watch Daddy and Ethan with stars in my eyes. I can’t help but think of the possibilities the universe is offering us. This will be a partnership made in heaven. A three-way partnership that will result in my ultimate, blissful happiness. I have a plan, Dear Diary. And I can’t wait to put it in motion. Chapter Seven The next morning, I sit up in bed, energetic and wide awake. An odd sensation of warmth swells in my chest. It’s happiness. My beeping alarm clock informs me that it’s already seven thirty. My watch starts at eight. I take a quick shower, then, after throwing on pants and a T-shirt, head up to the galley, where Mick has already brewed a pot of coffee. I pour some, add cream and sugar, then wander out on deck, shrugging my PFD on over my shirt. It’s a beautiful morning. It’s grown progressively warmer as we travel closer to Hawaii, and this morning is balmy with a brisk trade wind that has the Temptation clipping along at a good speed. I find Mick in the captain’s chair. “Good morning,” I say. “How’s everything?” “Great.” He glances up from the logbook and gives me a once-over. “You’re looking cheery this morning.” I almost choke on the sip of coffee I’m taking. I can’t remember anyone ever calling me cheery. “Do I?” I ask. Ethan’s mouth on mine… Ethan’s hand on my breast, bringing me higher and higher… The heat of a blush prickles over my cheeks. “Definitely. Did you get good news or something?” Yes, I did. I got the news that Ethan Williams will be mine for the next three weeks. The possessive thought makes my chest tighten. Ethan Williams is mine. I like the sound of that. “Nope.” Keeping my tone deliberately bland, I raise my coffee cup in salute. “It’s just a beautiful morning, and we’re going to be in Hawaii in a few days.” “Maybe a day or two longer than originally planned,” Mick tells me. “We haven’t been making good time.” He’s right—light winds have definitely slowed our progress. “But it’s already blowing this morning, so I bet we’ll make up some time today.” He grins at me. “Maybe we will. And the forecast is showing the winds picking up even more, so that’ll be good.” I agree that that would be a good thing, then tell him I’m going to head up to the bow. I maneuver around the captain’s chair and walk along the deck carefully, checking each step and gripping the lifeline tightly in one hand. After Kyle’s accident, I’ve been careful. I’ve worn my PFD, held on to the lifelines, clipped in to the harness whenever possible, just like Ethan made me promise to do. I sit at the very front of the boat and lean against the forestay, watching the twin prows slice into the water and sipping my coffee. The breeze whips my hair around my face, making me wish I’d tied it back, but it is a truly glorious morning. The sun seems brighter and feels warmer on my skin. The ocean seems bluer, and it sparkles under the sun. I stay at the bow until someone behind me says, “Hey there.” It’s Ethan. My mouth stretches into a big smile as he approaches, hot as ever, his smile reflecting my own, and warmth washes through my chest all over again. “Hey there yourself.” He sits beside me, close, but we don’t touch. “How are you this morning?” “Good,” I murmur, staring down at my cup as sudden shyness overcomes me. These bouts of self-consciousness come on at the strangest times. I really wish I could control them. He stiffens, an ever so slight tightening of his muscles. “Second thoughts?” I look up, blinking in surprise. “No.” The tension drains out of him as quickly as it came. “Good.” “Why? Were you having second thoughts?” “Hell, no,” he says quietly. “I missed you last night. I couldn’t wait to see you again.” A laugh bursts out of me, and the shyness is all but gone. Ethan has a way of making me come out of myself more than I can with anyone else except Kyle and Aunt Jo. “Your cabin is about twenty feet from mine. You could have come visit.” “I recall saying something last night about anticipation,” he murmurs. He glances back as if to make sure no one is watching us, then leans toward me to brush his lips over my hair. “But there’s something I didn’t tell you,” I answer in a playful tone. “What’s that?” “I’m impatient. It’s one of my big flaws. I have a hard time waiting for what I want.” He pulls back from me, his eyes twinkling. “I like this side of you, Tara. Who would have thought you were such a playful little sex kitten.” I do an honest-to-goodness spit take. Fortunately, most of it goes into the ocean. “Oh God! I’m not a sex kitten!” He laughs and reaches up to swipe a drop of coffee from my chin. “You don’t know how sexy you are, baby.” I’ve never thought of myself as sexy before. But with Ethan—yes, I can feel it. I feel like he has unlocked a hidden box of sensuality within me, and now, every time he’s near, he coaxes a little more of it free. I want to lean against him, close my eyes, and breathe him in. Arousal shimmers between us in a warm glow, and we’re not even touching. I don’t feel like a kitten right now, I feel like a lioness, ready to pounce on my prey and devour him. I shiver. “Are you cold?” he asks. I rake my teeth over my bottom lip as I look up at him. “No,” I say huskily. “I’m warm. Almost…hot.” His palm presses my cheek until we’re face-to-face, our noses a hairsbreadth apart. “And you say you’re not a sex kitten,” he murmurs. “Do you even know how you’ve got me tied up in knots right now?” “Tell me,” I whisper. “I can’t think of anything but being with you. I can’t wait to see you naked. Can’t wait to feel your bare body underneath me. Can’t wait”—he closes his eyes—“to be inside you.” He says the last in a low voice so laden with sensual promise that it sends shivers radiating out from my core. God, I want him so bad. Right now. But it’s not going to happen, because just then my spine prickles, and I look over my shoulder. Mick sits in the captain’s chair, staring at us. When he sees that I’ve caught him he doesn’t avert his eyes. There’s an expression of avid concentration on his face, like he’s watching an intense action movie during the climactic moment. I turn away, disconcerted. Ethan has already picked up on my tension, and he glances back too, his hand slipping from my cheek. “I don’t like him,” he murmurs, leaning toward me. “Stay away from him, Tara.” “Why do you say that?” That little paranoid part of me I’ve been pushing away—that part that’s been telling me the silicone on the deck was poured there on purpose—comes flaring to life. Mick might have done it. But...it still doesn’t make sense. What could possibly be his motive to do something like that? Ethan’s lips tighten. “I don’t trust him. Just be careful with him, okay?” “Sure…but…do you… I mean, do you have any evidence that something is…untrustworthy about him? That…maybe that he caused Kyle to fall overboard?” Ethan shakes his head. “It’s nothing like that.” “What, then?” “It’s just a feeling. But I know how to read people, and I do it well, which is one of the reasons I’m successful at what I do.” I believe him, and for the first time, the spark of interest in Mick’s dark eyes on us makes me shiver. * * * * * That afternoon, Ethan needs to work for a while, so I go onto the deck to hang out with Kyle and Nalani. Nalani, as usual, is on the bridge, making herself busy with adjusting sails and our course and checking all the electronics. Kyle is on the roof of the cabin, turned away from Nalani, his legs dangling over the edge. I go to Nalani first, because it seems like the right thing to do. She greets me without looking at me, utterly focused on the instrument panel. “Did you notice something strange about the compass while you were on watch?” she asks. “Not at all. What’s going on?” “It’s just… It’s like someone put a magnet next to it. The readings are swinging around like crazy. I don’t get it.” She sighs. “I’m going to have to remove it and see if I can figure it out.” I groan. “Great.” There have been maintenance issues like this from the very first day. I’d thought that a boat as new and perfectly outfitted as the Temptation wouldn’t have these problems, but I was wrong. “It’s not a big deal—we still have the handheld compasses and the GPS. Still…” She shakes her head. “Just a pain in the ass,” she mutters. “Yes, it is,” I agree. “Can you get me a Phillips screwdriver and a pair of pliers?” “Sure.” I hurry down to the cabin, quickly find the tools she wants, and in a few minutes, I’m handing them over. “Thanks,” she says. And then, “Perfect,” when I hand her the screwdriver. She’s usually so critical of me, even this small praise feels like a victory. “Do you need anything else?” “Nah.” She waves me off, then bends down to focus on her task. “If you need anything, just shout,” I say. “Right.” But she’s barely paying attention to me now. I watch her for a few minutes, just to make sure she doesn’t need my help, but she ignores me entirely. I back out of the bridge and head over to Kyle. I’m still a few feet away when I sense his bad mood. “What are you doing?” I sit next to him and dangle my legs off the side beside his. He closes his eyes. “Hey, Tara.” I blink at that. It’s so rare that he calls me anything but “T.” “What’s wrong?” I ask. He’s quiet for a minute and then gives a short bark of a laugh. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” I reel back a bit. His words drip with bitterness. Kyle is never like that. He’s the most relaxed and laidback person I’ve ever known. “What happened, Ky?” “Nothing, okay?” “O…kay.” This is so bizarre. Kyle rarely lets anything upset him. “But whatever it is, you know you can talk to me about it, right?” He just shakes his head. I lean toward him a little. “Is it Nalani?” I ask quietly. He tilts his head up to the sky, which is blue and cloudless today. But he doesn’t answer. It must be something to do with Nalani. Maybe…maybe he actually likes her. That thought stuns me…and it makes me happy and sad at the same time. I want Kyle to find someone who has the ability to affect him. But I don’t want his heart broken. I can’t help but press him. “Did she do something?” He closes his eyes. “No, she didn’t do anything. She’s fine.” “Then what’s wrong?” He ignores my question and instead gives me a forced, tight smile. “So…what’s going on with Williams?” The question jolts me. I’ve been so focused on Kyle, I didn’t expect this curveball. “Uh, I think he’s working.” “That’s not what I meant.” “What did you mean, then?” “I meant, what’s going on between you and him?” My cheeks prickle with heat. “Ummm…” How to answer this one? What’s happening between Ethan and me…as we agreed last night, it’s between the two of us. So I hedge. “I’m not sure…exactly.” “Really? Mick said he saw you kissing.” “Did he?” Annoyance at Mick cuts through me. When did he see us kissing? Or is he lying about it? At this moment, I’d really like to stomp into his cabin and tell him to mind his own business. But Ethan’s distrust has made me wary of Mick, and I’m not sure if he’s just being nosy or if he’s actually creepy…actually dangerous. “So what’s going on?” Kyle asks. It’s none of Kyle’s business either. But Kyle is my best friend. He’s been there for me…forever. “I don’t know, exactly. I think…” I pause. “What do you think?” “I like him, Ky. But we’re not going to have a long-term relationship or anything. We both have lives in LA to get back to. But for now…” I leave the end of the sentence hanging. Kyle turns wide green eyes on me. “Are you serious?” “Yeah, I am.” “Come on. Don’t be ridiculous.” “I’m not!” “Of course you are. You aren’t a short-term-affair kind of girl. You’re a forever kind of girl.” That statement shoves me into silence for a long moment. It reminds me of Ethan telling me that I needed the kind of guy who’d give me a real relationship. What is it with these men thinking they know who I am and what I need? “What are you saying?” I ask carefully. Kyle shakes his head. “Don’t you get it?” “No. I don’t get it. Please, spell it out for me.” He blows out a whistling breath through his teeth. Then, “You’re not the kind of girl who needs a guy fucking her, then walking away.” “What the hell are you talking about?” “What are you doing? What are you really doing?” My hands flail out in exasperation. “I don’t know. I guess… I guess I’m seeing where it can go. I like him.” “Right. So you are going to fuck him, then.” I recoil. “What the hell, Kyle?” “Oh, come on, Tara. You tell me everything. So tell me now, are you going to fuck him?” Yes. Yes, I am. And I can’t wait. Before I met Ethan, I would never have thought of sex as fucking. But now…yes, I want to fuck him. I also want to make love to him. And everything in between. “I don’t know,” I tell Kyle. “That means yes,” he mutters. I hold out my hands. “Okay. What’s your problem? You’re fucking Nalani, aren’t you? Before that, there was Sara. And Jessica and Marie and Michelle and Kimberly.” I just rattle off the names I remember from his recent history—I don’t know if they’re in order, and I’ve probably skipped a few. “You haven’t given a shit about any of them.” “That’s different,” he grinds out. “No, it’s not.” “It is,” he insists. “Ugh!” This is an imbalanced friendship if he can tell me in great TMI detail about the girls he’s sleeping with, but when I get close to sleeping with a man, he gets pissy. “How is it different?” “I care about you, T. I don’t want you to get hurt. I swear to God, if Williams hurts you, I’m going to kill him.” “I’m a big girl. I can handle it.” He gives me a look that clearly says he doesn’t believe me. “You sure?” “I’m sure.” I’m very nearly sure. Not quite all the way there. A ragged edge of fear still cuts through me. But Kyle doesn’t need to know that. “You know this guy’s an asshole, right?” “You seem so sure of that. You’re wrong, you know.” “Nope, I’m not wrong. I can just tell. There’s something… Just…there’s something not right about all this.” He purses his lips. “I can just tell he’s an ass, okay? Be careful.” I think of Ethan. He’s been anything but an ass, to all of us. “What is up with you? Did Ethan say something to you, or…?” “No.” Kyle nearly spits out the word. “I’m just worried about you.” I can tell he’s really pissed about all this, and it’s bewildering. “Okay, so…why haven’t I had to worry about you with all the girls you’ve been with?” “This is different,” he growls. “You’re different.” And then, all of a sudden, I get it. He thinks of me as a fragile little dandelion that will crumble with the slightest breeze. And I have been fragile. But now I’m strong…maybe not strong, but stronger. I know what I want and am willing to go after it instead of cowering from it. I’m going to throw myself into whatever is between Ethan and me, and, as he promised, I’m going to have no regrets. “I’m stronger than you think I am,” I tell Kyle. His gaze scans me up and down, and then he looks away to scowl at the ocean. “You’re right. I think you are stronger than I thought you were.” Kyle has never called me strong before. “Do you think so?” “Yeah, I do.” “And…that’s good. Right?” He sighs. “It’s really good.” He drapes his arm over my shoulder and pulls me close. He kisses me on the cheek, then releases me and stands. “I need to go talk to Nalani.” He turns and walks away. When he reaches Nalani, he bends down to help her with the compass. I turn away from them and gaze out over the ocean. The breeze is stronger today, and whitecaps froth over the tops of the waves. The conversation with Kyle has shaken me. Chapter Eight That night, I spend ten to eleven o’clock on watch alone. I’m dressed, as always, in pants and a T-shirt and my PFD…but I wait the entire hour in a state of anticipation. My whole body is charged. My senses are so attuned, I see and feel everything more sharply than usual. It’s like going on a first date with a guy I’ve had a crush on forever. Ethan comes up onto the deck at eleven. His arms full of folded blankets, he walks out the companionway and through the cockpit, making his way to the bridge, his eyes never breaking from mine. The breeze ruffles his dark hair, and a five o’clock shadow darkens his jaw. I can’t help but imagine the sensation of it rubbing over my skin, which feels so sensitive right now. His eyes are beautiful, steely blue in the starry light, and full of heat and warmth. He usually has a stern face, but whenever he looks at me, his features soften, turn even more handsome. He puts the blankets on the bench then comes up behind me and slips his arms around me. His lips press into my hair, then move down to my ear. With a sigh I can feel through my whole body, he takes my lobe between his teeth. He doesn’t bite me—he grazes his teeth over the most sensitive part of my ear, and the resulting shudder curls my toes. “How are you?” he asks, his breath whispering over my ear. “Glad you’re here.” “I would have come earlier, but I had a conference call.” “I know.” He spent most of the day in front of his computer and didn’t eat dinner with the rest of us. “Is something going on?” “Not really.” He sits on the bench beside the captain’s chair and rests his elbows on his knees. “Just putting out fires. They’re getting twitchy without me there.” “Does that mean you’ll have to go back early?” His smile is slow, and so sexy, my insides feel molten. “I’d rather let the fires burn than give up my time with you.” My smile grows. He makes me feel good about myself. He makes me believe that he wants me because I’m me and for no other reason. It’s a heady feeling—and one I haven’t had in ages. Maybe ever. “In any case,” he adds, “things will be easier when we’re in Hawaii. I’m about to throw the damned satellite phone into the ocean. It’s a pain in the ass. And the Internet out here…” He shakes his head in disgust. “You’ll get a better connection in Hawaii.” The bad signal out here irritates him no end. After trying to log on to the Internet a few times, I decided I don’t have the patience for it. I’d just wanted to log on to google Ethan anyway. But Ethan actually does have important things to do, and it’s frustrating for him that he can’t be as efficient as he’s used to. He squeezes me a bit tighter. “Everything okay here?” “Yes.” I’ve checked the radar, the autopilot, all the instruments. The wind is averaging fifteen knots, our speed is about eight knots, and everything is as it should be. “Good. Let’s go up top.” I unclip my harness, and we go to the roof of the cabin. Ethan spreads out the blankets he’s brought, and we stretch out on them. Both of us gaze up at the sky for a moment, then I turn to him, propping my head on my palm. He looks young staring up at the heavens like this, but he’s twenty-nine, an owner of a very successful business and, according to Kyle, loaded with money. None of us have discussed Ethan’s wealth. But it’s so much a part of him that he’s at the point where he doesn’t need to talk about it. He glances over at me, and smiles as he reaches up and brushes a strand of hair from my face. “Hey, beautiful.” Heat prickles on my face. “Hey,” I whisper. “What are you thinking about?” “You.” “What about me?” “I was just wondering how you became what you are.” “Why?” A slight tension colors the word, but I plunge ahead anyway. “I want to know everything about you.” He’s all I can think about, and I want to know him, peel him open, and find out what lies beneath all the facades he chooses to present to the world. “Mmm…” He turns back to face the sky, his expression unreadable. “Where do you want me to start?” “Where did you go to school?” “I went to public schools in San Jose.” “Did you go to college?” He nods. “Stanford. But I quit in my junior year to join a tech startup.” “Sounds like you were following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs,” I say, recalling the biography I read on the founder of Apple. He grins. “That’s what I thought at the time. We designed innovative memory chips. We were pretty successful, and after a couple of years, we were bought out by Oracle.” I remember how his father was also involved in a startup before his death. “Did you get involved in the startup because you wanted to follow in your dad’s footsteps?” He slants a glance at me, then turns his gaze to the sky again. “Not really. It’d be more accurate to say I wanted to succeed where he failed.” “And you did.” “I did,” he agrees. “A thousand times over.” His voice is devoid of emotion and his expression carefully blank as the Temptation pitches and rolls gently in the swell. “So…were you angry at your dad for failing? For leaving you and your mom alone?” His face whips in my direction, his eyes wide, deep pools reflected in the moonlight. “What makes you say that?” “I don’t know. It just seems like it was important for you to prove that you could do it better than him.” “He left my mom penniless, Tara. He sank every single cent they had into that business. He was passionate and hardworking, and my mom never blamed him for all that we went through afterward.” “But you did.” He’s quiet for a moment. Then, quietly, “I guess so. He was a selfish bastard. It’s why I never become emotionally involved with the startups I fund. I study the numbers and analyze potential. It’s a business, and I’m not going to forget that. He did. He let his emotional attachment to the company rule him. And look where it left us.” “Sounds to me like your mom made it through okay.” “Eventually.” Ethan’s lips are tight, and the moonlight gives his face a pale, silvery sheen. “We lost the house within a year of my dad dying. Welfare isn’t enough when you don’t have a roof over your head.” My throat seems to close in on itself. “I can’t imagine,” I say softly. “Did you go to relatives, or…?” “There was no one to go to. We lived in a shelter for a while. Then my mom got a job as a janitor, and she earned enough money—barely—for a studio apartment. Eventually, she took some early childhood education classes and worked as an aide in a daycare, then she became a teacher in a preschool. I keep telling her she doesn’t need to teach anymore, but she likes it.” “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” “Yeah.” He takes a deep breath. “No more, okay? Not about that.” “Okay.” There’s got to be a lot more to what he and his mom went through, but that’s enough for tonight. I’m already reeling, imagining him as a boy having lost his dad and his house, living in a shelter… My stomach gets tight thinking about it. But there’s so much more I want to know. And he eventually went to Stanford, so growing up couldn’t have been all bad for him. We both lie there, moving with the motion of the Temptation, listening to the sounds of the cat pushing through the waves. Eventually, I say, “So…you moved to LA after Oracle bought your company?” “No, not exactly.” A muscle works in his jaw. “I continued to work there for another year. And then…I was forced out.” “Why?” I ask. After a long silence, he shrugs. “Why does anything happen? There was conflict, and it was decided all around that it’d be better if I left. So I moved away and started the business in LA. I was an angel investor at first.” I think about that for a minute—an angel investor is someone who invests their own funds in startup businesses. “That must have required quite a bit of capital.” “It did.” It seems like becoming an angel investor would require a lot more than the proceeds of the sale of a startup tech company. Chewing my lip, I consider whether to ask him about that. No. If he wanted to tell me more right now, he would. I roll onto my back. “So you started off as an angel investor, but then…” “I got my hands dirty with several successful tech and Internet startups. The business grew and eventually became Williams Funding.” “Did you see success right away?” “No, not right away. It took some time, and during that time, I worked on finishing my undergraduate and MBA degrees at UCLA. But then it really took off a few years ago. I came from the right background, so I know what founding a startup is like, and I have an instinct about what’s going to work and what isn’t.” Given my BA in business administration with a focus on finance, this talk isn’t boring to me. In fact, I find it oddly arousing. But then again, Ethan could rattle off a grocery list, and I’d probably find it arousing. “Come here,” he says quietly, and he pulls me to him. I cuddle up against him, my head on his shoulder, my hand splayed over his abs. His arm curls around me, and I sink into the feeling of being in his arms like this. I feel…safe. Cherished. Like this is where I belong. He kisses the top of my head. “Anything else you want to know about me?” Yes. I want to know more about his childhood in poverty. About his business success. And I want to know about the debutante in the online pictures. I gnaw on my lower lip, not exactly sure how to ask that last question. Then I finally say, “Have you had a lot of girlfriends?” The air releases from his chest. After a short silence, he says, “No. Not a lot.” “Why not?” Women must throw themselves at him at every available opportunity. His arm tightens around me. “I had a couple of girlfriends...a while ago. Neither relationship...ended well.” His voice is tight. Whatever happened must have been really bad. “Since then, I haven’t really been interested in anyone.” He pauses, then adds quietly, “Until you.” I close my eyes, letting myself savor his words for a few seconds. Then I ask, “Why me?” “Don’t sell yourself short,” he says roughly. “I hate it when you do that.” “Do I?” “All the time. You’re gorgeous, brave, determined, strong, loyal, and so fucking smart—” I laugh out loud, because all those adjectives, strung together like that and referring to me… It just doesn’t seem like it can possibly be real. “I wouldn’t call myself any of those things,” I say. His body bristles beneath me. “You’re beautiful. Don’t tell me anyone’s ever told you otherwise.” I don’t answer. No one has ever called me ugly…but they’ve never gushed over my beauty like they did Emily’s. “And what about Kyle? The way you rescued him. The determination to keep him safe, the loyalty.” I sigh. He can’t understand the nature of my relationship with Kyle. How much I owe him. “And you…” His voice wavers, then he continues, “You have a limp…but you’ve never told me about it, never complain about it. Tell me what happened to you. Tell me how you got it.” The air sticks in my lungs, unable to leave my body as if something has blocked my airway. I haven’t told him about Emily. It’s a topic to be avoided in any circumstance, because talking about it breaks me every time. But…I’m comfortable enough with him to tell him this. Just give him the basics. “Car accident,” I manage. He lies very still beside me. “A bad one.” It’s not a question. More of a statement. “Yes…it… Yes. My leg was crushed. And burned.” I also broke two ribs and my collarbone. My lung collapsed, and there was swelling in my brain. They kept me in a medically induced coma for two days after the accident. The only visible scars that remain are the ones on my leg, though. And my limp. “And here you are,” he says quietly. “Walking again. Crossing an ocean in a sailboat—doing something that most people wouldn’t have the guts to do. Bravery. Strength.” He can’t know how weak I’ve really been. The days and months spent in my apartment, afraid to go outside, the crushing depression. Nothing about clawing my way out of it has ever felt easy. And it doesn’t make me feel strong. Then he asks the most dreaded question of all. “Was anyone in the car with you?” Chapter Nine Ethan’s words are low and hesitant, as if he doesn’t really want to know the answer. He always seems to pick up my moods like that; he can tell something affects me before I outwardly reveal that it does. I bury my face against his chest. “Yes, there was someone in the car with me,” I say raggedly, my voice muffled by his shirt. “My sister.” “I’m sorry, Tara. I’m so sorry.” His arm tightens around me. At times the grief washes over me like a tidal wave, and I can’t stop it. Emily was my only family, my best friend, my big sister, my role model. She was beautiful and smart and funny and vivacious. She had an incredible future ahead of her, and in the blink of an eye, she was gone. I battle it back, that feeling of despair threatening to overwhelm me, and tilt my head up to meet Ethan’s lips with my own. Touching Ethan, kissing him, being with him…it’ll help push aside these feelings. Lock them into a corner where they can’t hurt me anymore. I kiss him desperately, and he returns my kisses with equal strength, equal fervor, hauling me on top of him before wrapping his arms around me and pressing me to him. His legs are spread slightly, and my lower body is notched between them. Breathing in short pants, I thrust my fingers into his thick, dark hair, and I kiss him so hard our teeth touch. My tongue dives inside his mouth, and he groans. His hands press my lower back, then rotate so his fingers are cupped over the upper slope of my butt. My kisses move over his cheek, frantic and needy. He tastes so good. I want more. I need more. I need him. My heart beats hard and fast, and my breath comes out in short puffs. I’m so focused on kissing him, on tasting him, that I don’t realize he’s turning us until I’m beneath him. He pulls back from me, holding my face steady between his hands. “Shh, Tara.” I inhale sharply. He’s sensed it before I felt it, but I feel it now—the edges of a panic attack prickling over me. With every breath, it becomes more difficult to pull in enough air. Oh God. Not now. Not here. “Shh,” he murmurs again. I grip his shoulders while shudders rack my body and sweat breaks out across my chest, making my shirt stick to my skin. “Please.” My whisper is hoarse, but he appears to understand the word. “I’ve got you.” His body presses over mine, a heavy, grounding weight. “That’s right,” he murmurs. “Breathe. In and out. Good. Now slower. I’m going to count to two—two counts while you inhale and two counts while you exhale.” Opening my eyes, I focus on him, watching his lips as he counts and trying to measure my inhalations. When I can extend them to two counts, he slows down by counting to three, then four, then six. It’s like he knows what I need to calm down, and he’s giving me exactly that. As my breaths calm, my heart rate decreases and cool air dries up my sweat. Several minutes later, he is still there, still talking me down. And as we chase the last vestiges of the panic away, self-consciousness covers me like a cold, mortifying blanket. “I’m sorry,” I whisper. “It’s not your fault. It’s mine,” he says gruffly. “I shouldn’t have pushed you to talk about something that’s so difficult for you.” “I need to get over it.” I don’t know why I can’t move on, and it frustrates the crap out of me. I’m stuck in a purgatory of my own making, and I can’t seem to free myself from it. “No. A person never gets over something like that.” I reach up and run my hands over his arms, my fingers tracing the dips and curves of his muscles. His strength calms me even more. “You’re like a dream,” I say. “You’re my dream,” is his response. He leans down and presses his forehead to mine. “I want you so bad, baby.” I want him with an intensity that scares me. I feel like I need him, like if he doesn’t reciprocate my feelings, I’d be lost. He moves to his side and brings me along with him. I snuggle against his body, sinking completely into those unfamiliar feelings of safety and contentment. He strokes me. First he smooths my hair away from my face and down my back. Then his fingers drag long trails up and down my spine. “I’m going to touch you,” he murmurs. “I’m going to feel every inch of your skin. Learn every part of your body. Taste all of you.” The promise of it makes me shudder. “But not here.” “Why not?” “Someone might come up here. I want it to be private. Just between us. I want it to be special.” “I can’t think of anything more special than being here with you right now,” I say honestly. His hand flattens on my lower back, just above the curve of my butt. “No one has ever come up here while we’re on watch at this hour,” I tell him. “Why would they choose tonight?” He doesn’t answer, and I press against him, kissing his chest, running my hand over the tight muscles of his arm. To be naked under the stars with Ethan is an irresistible temptation. Slowly and reverently, he begins exploring. His hands move to my sides, over the dip in my waist, then slide around to my backside. I push my face and my body against him as he leaves trails of heat on my skin everywhere he touches. His fingers move to the front of my pants, and my breath catches as he flicks the button open. He pulls down the zipper, and it seems a harsh sound over the creaks and splashes the Temptation makes as it slips through the waves. He slides his hand around the inside waistband of my pants as his other hand draws slow, gentle circles on my back. His fingers are cool on my overheated skin. “Lie back,” he says. I comply, opening my eyes to see him balanced over me, haloed by a million stars. He gives the front of my body the same attention he gave my back, but this time he adds his lips into the mix. He kisses me, then drags his lips down my neck as he explores my breasts, cupping them over my bra and T-shirt, gently coaxing my nipples into taut peaks. His lips follow where his hands have explored, and I can feel the heat of them even through my clothes. He kisses up the side of one of my breasts, then latches on to my nipple. The sensation is so strong, almost overpowering. What will it be like when I’m naked? He moves downward. My hips and the dips in my waist above them seem to fascinate him. He wraps his fingers around my sides and moves lower until he’s nudging my shirt up to expose my midriff above the waistband of my pants. His lips are warm and soft but purposeful, and when they glide over the sensitized skin of my stomach, I groan. His fingers hook over the waist of my pants. “I’m going to take these off.” His voice is quiet but full of delicious heat. I knew this was coming, but still I tense. “What is it, baby?” I can’t lie to him. I don’t want to. “It’s… I don’t like my legs, that’s all.” He runs his hand over the outside of my leg, his fingers brushing over the length of the scars through my pants. “Bravery,” he reminds me. “Strength. That’s what your scars mean to me. That’s all they mean to me.” “They’re ugly.” “You’re beautiful.” I hesitate for long seconds, then swallow down the self-consciousness that has bubbled up. “Okay.” “And I’m taking off your panties too.” My mouth feels dry. “Okay.” This time, it is just a whisper. I lift my butt up, and he draws my pants and underwear down my legs and completely off, removing my shoes when he reaches my feet. The breeze brushes my bare skin—another layer of caresses to add to Ethan’s. And then, more kisses, more gentle strokes as he works his way back up my legs. He doesn’t focus on my scars, but he doesn’t ignore them either. He treats them like they’re a natural part of me, and he kisses and nibbles over them like he does the rest of my skin. By the time he has traveled up to my thighs, I don’t care about the scars anymore. I’m so turned on, it is all I can do not to writhe and squirm. If he touches my sex, I’ll be soaking wet. I’m so ready to have him inside me. Gently, he tugs my knees apart, and he strokes up my inner thighs, following his touch with his lips. He takes his time, kissing and nibbling and suckling, and every inch he moves closer to the apex of my thighs makes me feel heavier, needier. And then his fingers are on me. Gently opening me and stroking through my slickness. “Oh God,” I groan. “You’re so wet,” he murmurs, dark satisfaction in his tone. A single finger slides into me. I whimper as he drags it out, stroking my inner walls, and then pushes back inside. He repeats the movement again and again, and it’s a tease, such a tease. His fingers drive me higher and higher, but they won’t take me over the edge. I need him inside me—not just his fingers, but all of him. I start begging. “Please, Ethan. Please.” “What do you want, baby?” But he doesn’t give me a chance to answer. Instead, he asks, “Do you want this?” And then his mouth covers my sex, all heat and wetness, even as his fingers continue their relentless assault. His tongue is wicked. He knows exactly where to flick it over me, and suddenly I’m careening to my peak. The sensations—his lips and his tongue on me, his fingers working inside me—all come together in an intense conflagration of heat. I don’t need to strain for it; instead, it rushes at me with all the power of an inferno. His tongue passes over my clit, and that’s it. I explode into a million burning sparks. I have no control over my body, which undulates with the force of the orgasm. And I can’t control my cries of pleasure or the way my hands clutch at Ethan’s hair. My body is racked with powerful spasms so intense my vision goes black for a moment, blotting out all the stars. Slowly, I come down from it. Ethan’s mouth has gentled on me, and his fingers slip from my body as the last of the spasms die out. He kisses his way upward, until our mouths align. He kisses me deeply, and I taste myself on his lips as I wrap my arms around him and move my lips in concert with his. He threads his hand in my hair, and his lips are gentle and soft even as they overwhelm me, make me inexorably his. He murmurs about how beautiful I was when I came, how good I tasted, how sweet I am, until I feel like my blush has spread from my cheeks all the way down my chest and has hit my belly button. After a long time has passed, and I’m sighing with contentment and the aftereffects of pleasure, he rises and begins to put my underwear and pants back on, but I stop him. “Wait. What about you?” His smile is slow and sexy. “What about me?” I chew my lower lip, my eyes flickering down to the prominent bulge behind the zipper of his pants. “Mmm,” he says. “What do you want with that, Tara?” “Everything,” I whisper. “Good.” He presses a kiss to my big toe. “But not tonight.” “But—” “Shh.” He pulls my underwear and pants back up and then lies down beside me and gathers me against him. We lie like that, me cuddled into the crook of his arm. “I want to spend every hour I can with you,” he murmurs. “Every minute. I can feel them ticking away, and I want to grab each one and hold on to it and not let it get away.” I feel the same. Right now, our inevitable return to LA feels like diving into a black hole after a long flight through a million bright stars. I want to stay among the stars for as long as I can. We lie here, wrapped around each other, for the duration of our watch. We check on the instruments and on the sails intermittently, but for the most part talk about anything and everything. At one a.m., he walks me to my cabin and gives me a long, sweet kiss good night before returning up to the deck for the remainder of the middle-of-the-night watch he shares with Kyle. I get ready for bed, put on my pajamas, and slide between the sheets, pulling my comforter up over me. I’m glad we decided to keep our relationship private. I felt so uncomfortable when I saw Mick watching us like we were fascinating specimens. But the real truth is, this feeling I have—it’s special. I want to keep it and hold it close, and I don’t want to share it with the world. Not yet. Maybe not ever. For the first time in forever, I fall asleep relaxed, content, and with a smile on my face. Justine November 2, 2004 As our relationship grows deeper and more profound, I’ve learned a lot about Ethan. He has opened up to me completely (far more than I have opened up to him, by the way). I know just about everything about him now, about his awful life before he dug his way out of the pit in high school and won the scholarship to Stanford. Something unconscionable happened to his mother, and he was there to witness it. It explains a lot about him, about how insanely protective he is toward the people he cares about. It has also made me view his mom in a different way. I despised her at the beginning, but now I am able to tolerate her. Sometimes. The thing is, I’ve been through hard times too. Really awful times. But I don’t use them as an excuse for...well, anything. Yes, I suffered through them. But now, they’re over. I’ve moved on. So I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people (like Jean) who use one horrible incident to color their whole life. In fact, it makes me angry. I just want to shake them and yell, Move on, people! Really, people just need to get over themselves. Anyway, I’ll stop ranting. Good thing I won’t have to see too much of Jean. She might make my head explode if I have to deal with her self-effacing, martyring, oh, so sweet attitude too often. Enough of that. I actually have big news for you, Diary, and it is this: My plan has come to fruition! I’ve done it! I’ve convinced Daddy that Ethan is indispensable to the future of Triton. And I’ve convinced Ethan that this opportunity to partner with my dad is big, bigger than what Stanford can do for him right now. I’m right on both counts, of course. It just took a little surreptitious nudging (and a bit of hacking to speed up their progress) on my part to make both of them realize it. It’s been ten months to the day, but I am a patient girl. All my hard work has paid off. Daddy is bringing Ethan, the tech/business prodigy, into the fold. Ethan has chosen to quit school in order to work alongside my brilliant father. Do you understand what this means, Dear Diary? No? Let me spell it out for you. I want Ethan in my life. Now that I have tied him to Triton and Daddy, I have connected him irrevocably to my family. Of course, I’m still in college, and we’re both only twenty-one, so it’s not like I’m expecting him to propose or anything. Yet. But someday he will. It’s so wonderful, Diary, to know without a single doubt that Ethan Williams will be mine. Forever and ever and ever. Chapter Ten The next day goes by in a flurry of smiles and stolen kisses. When no one is watching, Ethan and I can’t keep our hands off each other. It’s like I’m reliving a high school experience I never had, stealing kisses behind our parents’ backs. It makes me giddy. Kyle spends most of the day in his and Nalani’s cabin, and I’m guiltily glad about his absence, because I worry he’d see something different about me, like I must have a certain glow that wasn’t present yesterday, and he’ll notice and be irritated by it. It’ll be best if Kyle never finds out about the arrangement Ethan and I have made. We’re going back to LA in a few weeks, and then everything will be like it was. Why worry him? I know he’ll worry. He made it abundantly clear yesterday that he doesn’t want me to be with Ethan. Because evidently, a “forever kind of a girl” isn’t allowed to have hot flings with hotter men. That night, when I go up on deck for my watch, a steady rain is falling. Which means there will be no stargazing on the trampoline or on the roof of the cabin. It means we’ll need to hunker down on the bridge and try to stay dry. Ethan comes out early, and we settle back in the darkness while the rain patters on the Plexiglas windshield and the Temptation pitches beneath us. The waves are spectacular tonight—these aren’t baby waves but high rollers that the Temptation will crest, then crash down onto the other side. It’s so dark, we can’t see where the ocean ends and the sky begins. Inky blackness surrounds us on all sides. I sit in the captain’s chair to steer by hand for a while and give the autopilot a break. “We’re just over five hundred nautical miles from Honolulu,” Ethan tells me, looking up from the GPS. I nod. “About four more days, then.” “The forecast is still promising more wind. We might make landfall sooner.” Three or four more days on the Temptation. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’m anxious to see dry land—to see anything except the endless blues of ocean and sky. On the other hand, now that I’m not so eager to escape from Ethan, I realize that something has awakened in me in the past couple of weeks. Some dormant feeling of vitality that’s been missing in my life since Emily died. Even surrounded by all the darkness tonight, I feel lighter than I have in a long time. A part of me fears that stepping off this boat means I’ll step back into a world as oppressive and bleak as the one I left. Ethan studies me intently. “Are you okay?” “I just can’t believe we’ve sailed almost all the way to Hawaii.” He seems reflective for a moment, then he nods. “It’s amazing. I never thought I’d do something like this.” Again, as I have so many times since the day we met, I wonder at his presence here. He’s been vague, and I can’t get a solid answer out of him why he decided to join the crew of the Temptation. But if anyone asked me the same question, my answer would probably be vague as well. He says it was something he had to do. Well, it was something I had to do as well. He leaves the GPS and comes to stand beside me, slipping his arm around me. He bends down to press a kiss to my cheek and nuzzle my hair. We melt into each other, our edges blurring together like the sea and sky around us. I spent most of the day anticipating tonight, imagining that we’d make love under the stars. Now, though, the weather is awful, and by the time Ethan’s done with his watch at three a.m., I’ll be fast asleep. Disappointment is a heavy stone within me, because I want him so much, I can hardly think of anything else. What will it be like to make love to him? To have him inside me? How will he feel? What will he look like—what will it feel like—when he comes? I want to see it. He’s so tightly controlled, so precise, I want to see him when he falls apart. When he succumbs to pleasure. When he succumbs to me. I push away those thoughts. If I can’t make love with him tonight, I can at least talk to him, learn more about him, be with him. And those are all things I crave too. I lean my head against his shoulder. “Tell me more about you.” “Mmm.” His chest rumbles with the sound as he gives me a crooked smile that’s so sexy, all sorts of places within me awaken in response. “I’ve already told you about me.” “Not everything. There’s so much I don’t know.” “What else do you want to know?” I consider this for a minute. Maybe we should start with the basics. It’s embarrassing I don’t know these things yet. “Where do you live?” “I have a house in Malibu, but I also have a condo downtown.” This doesn’t surprise me, considering his business and his wealth. “A house in Malibu, huh?” He nods, and a small smile curls his lips. “You like it there,” I guess. “I do,” he confirms. “I had it built a couple of years ago—and it has every feature I’d ever want in a home. It’s in a great location too. Malibu can feel congested, but in my house, it feels like there are no people for miles around. It’s not as isolated as being in the middle of the ocean like we are now, but I like that feeling of being close to but far from the world. It’s too bad I can’t spend more time there.” “Because you’re working,” I say. It’s not really a question. “Because I’m working,” he agrees after a beat of silence. “I sleep at the condo when I work late.” The Temptation slams down over the back face of a tall wave, and we’re silent as I steer through the rest of the waves in the set. “And in your spare time?” I finally ask him. “What spare time?” I laugh. “Okay. If you had spare time, what would you do with it?” His lips press to my temple. “I can think of a lot of things.” “Like what?” “Like peeling off your clothes. Like tasting you again.” And just like that, I want him with a ferocity that leaves me breathless. “Like running my hands all over you. Like feeling you come under my fingers. Do you know how much I loved that? I want to do it again and again.” “Ethan,” I say on a sigh. He trails his fingers up and down my spine, a flaring path of promise. His lips move against me as he nuzzles my hair. “God, you smell so good. Like lemonade.” I shift restlessly, the sudden press of arousal too intense for me to keep still. “I wish—” He suddenly stops speaking. “What? What do you wish?” “I wish we could be in my Malibu house right now. More specifically, in my bed in my Malibu house.” “I wish that too. Or anywhere where it’s dry, actually.” “Dry would be good.” “And warm.” Although the air grows more tropical by the day, it’s still damp everywhere, and with that comes a certain chill in your bones it’s difficult to shake. I sigh, and before I can stop myself, I say, “But I’ll never see your Malibu house.” I flinch at that, because it sounded so damn plaintive I want to whack myself in the back of my head for sounding so weak. “I wish you could.” The words have an honesty to them that makes me want to demand why he won’t take me there, then. But I’ve found that scrap of pride when it comes to Ethan, and I’m not letting it go. “I do too.” I leave it at that. “So tell me, when I’m not around to seduce, what do you really do in your spare time?” But he still doesn’t answer. “Is that what I’m doing? Seducing you?” Oh, you already have. Irrevocably and thoroughly seduced me. But I don’t say that. “I don’t know. Is that what you’re trying to do?” He shakes his head. “No. I think it’s the other way around. You’ve seduced the hell out of me.” A sensation of intense strength washes through me at the way he says that, his tone wavering, infused with so much raw need. For the first time in my entire life, I realize I have the power to seduce a man. And not just any man—no, I have the power to seduce a man like Ethan Williams. Holy shit. I take a moment to let all that strength sink in deep into my pores, and then I murmur, “I’m not going to let you get off that easy. You still haven’t told me how you like to spend your time away from work.” “I’m not evading the question. You keep distracting me.” His teeth graze the top of my ear. The sensation is so erotic, my body emits a harsh, demanding pulse of need. “Then answer it.” “I go to the gym. When I’m feeling lazy, I watch movies. Just recently, I’ve taken up sailing.” He laughs. “I go to the gym sometimes, but mostly I feel lazy and watch movies instead. And, isn’t this a coincidence? I’ve recently taken up sailing too.” “Sounds like we have a lot in common.” “Yes, it does.” I smile. The sails start luffing, flapping wildly in the wind, and we adjust course and use the electric winches to pull in the sheets. When the Temptation is sailing smoothly—well, as smoothly as it can in this weather—I murmur, “My sister was in a couple of movies.” Ethan goes very still beside me. “She was an actress,” he says. It’s not a question. Maybe someone already told him about this. “Emily Jameson.” I look at him when he has no reaction to the name. “Have you heard of her?” If he’s a movie aficionado, it’s possible he has. “Yeah,” he says slowly, “I think so.” “She was the younger sister of the mom in Truth and Dare two years ago, and the zombie best friend in Dining with the Dead—that one came out early last year when she was already…” I don’t finish. He nods, but his expression is still flat. “I remember.” “She was so pretty,” I murmur. “And talented. She was going to be a bigger star than my mom, I think.” “You miss her a lot, don’t you?” The words are laden with an emotion I can’t quite place. “Yeah.” The arm he has wrapped around my waist squeezes me tight. And while I feel like I’m about to cry, I don’t feel one of the panic attacks coming on. Progress, I think bitterly. But then some of the bitterness recedes when I think of how much Emily would want me to move forward and not hover in a purgatory of panic attacks and grief. We move on to other topics, about how he has a cabin in Aspen he goes to whenever he can get a winter weekend free to ski but evidently hasn’t visited in a couple of years. “The last vacation I went on was to Cabo San Lucas with Aunt Jo over the semester break.” “I’ve been there. Did you like it?” “It was nice. All we did all week was sit on the beach, drink margaritas, and read Jane Austen books.” “Sounds like a real-life chick flick.” “Well, what did you do when you were in Cabo?” He gazes out the window into the inky darkness. “Not much. I worked a lot.” I snort. “Right, of course. But if you hadn’t been working, what would you have done?” “I would have rented a boat and gone sport fishing. I would have gone off-roading, maybe horseback riding. I would have rented a Jet Ski and gone kayaking.” I smile, because all that sounds wonderful to the new me—to the thrill-seeker that I’ve always wanted to be. “You don’t know my Aunt Jo. Imagining her reeling in a swordfish…” “No? Not her thing?” “Definitely not her thing. She’s against animal violence of any kind.” We launch into a discussion about Aunt Jo. The woman who raised me after my parents died was the woman who gave me the alcohol to get drunk the first time when I was seventeen. She was the woman who encouraged me to live, to experiment, to have adventures. In my teenage years, I rebelled by becoming as conservative as possible, but Aunt Jo never begrudged me that. She’s the least judgmental person I know. “What does she think about you coming on the Temptation?” Ethan asks me. I roll my eyes. “What do you think?” Ethan pauses as he considers all that I’ve told him about her. “She supported it?” “She made no secret of the fact that she wishes she could have come instead. She’s insanely jealous and thinks it’s the chance of a lifetime.” Ethan laughs easily, and the conversation easily moves on. I talk about school and my upcoming job as a finance associate for Continental Bank, about my apartment in West LA and where I grew up with Emily and Aunt Jo in Topanga Canyon. All the while, we pay attention to the gusting breezes and the rain, and we make constant adjustments to keep the Temptation sailing in the direction it’s supposed to go. The rain and the wind recede, but seawater still sprays over the deck every time we crash down from a wave. We’re so focused on sailing and on each other that I don’t notice Kyle until he’s almost on top of me. When he touches me, I think it’s Ethan come back from adjusting one of the lines, and I lean into the hand on my back. “Hey, T.” I pull away quickly. “Oh hey. What’s up?” I haven’t seen much of Kyle today at all. He didn’t even come in to grab dinner, which he usually does; instead, Nalani took him a plate. “It’s time for my watch.” I glance over to the port side to see Ethan making his way back toward us, his head bowed against the wind. “It’s one already?” “It’s one fifteen,” he says dryly. “I’m late.” I blink at him surprised. “Already?” I haven’t been aware so much time has passed. It seems like I just came out for my watch. Being with Ethan makes the time fly. Ethan walks over to us, dripping wet. He greets Kyle, who responds with a grunt, tension I don’t often see in him tightening his shoulders. I try to shake it off. “Well, I guess I’ll get down to bed.” The two men eye each other, and I don’t like the looks they’re exchanging. I don’t like that their clear antagonism toward each other undoubtedly has something to do with me. Ethan turns to me. “I’ll walk—” Ethan begins, but Kyle interrupts him. “I’ll go down with you. I have to grab something below.” “Okay, sure.” I glance at Ethan to see his gaze locked on me. I want him to walk me to my bunk like he did last night and kiss me until I’m senseless. But that’s not going to happen—not with Kyle here. Kyle and I walk inside, and as I shrug out of my wet jacket and PFD to hang them in the galley to dry, Kyle grips my shoulder, turning me to face him. The Temptation is pitching with the weather, and it’s rocky down here in the main cabin, so I hold on to the lip at the edge of the counter. Kyle’s expression is one I’ve never seen on his face in my life. It’s angry, distressed, so intense I suck in a breath. “Ky, what’s wrong?” His mouth opens, then closes. He tries again, and his voice is low and scratchy. “I can’t do this, T.” “Can’t do what?” “I can’t sit here…and watch this.” “Watch what?” His lips twist into a grimace. “I…I saw…” Kyle’s face is as dark as storm clouds, and suddenly I get a strong notion that I know what he’s about to say. And I’m not going to like it. I want to cover my ears and turn away, but Kyle continues, biting each word out. “I saw him going down on you last night. I watched it all.” “Kyle!” I gasp out. Nausea tightens into a knot at the back of my throat. His lips go flat, and he shakes his head. “I’m not going to let this happen.” What? Why? I’m slammed by a flurry of reactions and emotions, and I can’t connect any of them to what he’s saying. “Let…what happen?” I manage. “You can’t be with him.” “What?” I ask, not because I didn’t hear him, but because I’m so shocked that he thinks he can tell me what to do. “You can’t be with Ethan Williams.” He grabs my shoulders and pulls me closer to him, then gets in my face. “You can’t sleep with him. You can’t be with him.” I’m so angry with him, so blindsided by this. It’s like something clicks on inside me, like it did that day Nalani told me I was wrong to swim to Kyle when he fell overboard. “What the hell is wrong with you?” “Don’t do this, Tara,” he warns. “It’s not your business.” “That’s not true. Everything about you is my business.” A part of me knows he’s right. At least that’s been the case since Emily died. He’s been there for me in every way possible, has made just about every move of mine his business so that he could help me get through it. “Well, this isn’t your business,” I bite out. He bends down, almost nose to nose with me now. His eyes are narrowed, his facial muscles tense. “I’m making it my business,” he growls. I stare at him, my eyes blazing, my jaw working, so pissed off at him now, I can’t even talk. “You can’t be with that asshole,” he says. “Too bad”—I’m amazed at how solid and strong I sound—“because I am with him.” He gives me a little shake. “No.” “You’re not my dad. And you’re not my big brother either. Ethan and I are together. Deal with it.” His fingers squeeze tighter, and I wrench away from his grip, though I still face him, my cheeks burning with anger…and embarrassment. To think that he saw Ethan and me…that he watched it. My anger is sharp, and it contains a hint of loathing. I’m not sure I can ever forgive him for this. This could destroy our friendship. “I saw his head between your legs, Tara,” he spits out. “So?” “So…that’s not okay.” “You know what’s not okay? You watching. You invading our privacy. That’s not okay.” “Bullshit. You were out on the deck where anyone could go at any time. That’s not a private area. I have as much right to be on deck as you do.” “That’s not the point. The point is, once you saw that we were…that we were intimate, you should have gone away.” At that, he breaks our eye contact and looks away. His shoulders heave up, then down as he sucks in a giant breath. “Damn you.” The words are laden with such heaviness, it sucks the wind out of my sails. “What’s wrong? Why are you so upset? I don’t understand. I’ve had boyfriends before. You know that.” He’d always been my staunch protector, but this is different. He’s never taken my attachment to a guy so personally. “But not now…not after…not after Emily.” “I know that. I was in mourning, and I couldn’t even think about being with anyone—” “I know.” “But I’m ready to move on now. Is that so bad?” He looks back up at me, and…shit. His eyes glisten. I’ve seen Kyle cry only once, and that was at my bedside just after I woke up at the hospital and he and Aunt Jo told me about Emily. “I’ve…been…waiting.” He sounds as if it takes a huge effort for him to say every word. “Waiting? For what?” “For you to be ready.” “For what?” “For me.” I stare at him, bewildered. “That asshole doesn’t love you, T.” He gestures roughly in the direction of the bridge. “But I do. I love you so much. I think I’ve been in love with you forever.” There’s a gasp from the direction of the stairs that lead down to the starboard cabins. Both our gazes snap in that direction. Nalani stands in the shadows, her face as pale as the moon. Oh, shit. To be continued... ***This Ends Part 1 of Swept Away.*** Swept Away is a 4-part serial novel. Please turn the page for a sexy scene from Part 2. Caution: This excerpt includes spoilers. If you don’t want to read any spoilers or scenes from the next book, please stop here and go grab Part 2 instead. (Oh, and just to warn you—Swept Away Part 2 is chock-full of danger, revelations, and lots and lots of sexy heat between Ethan and Tara...) For more information about Swept Away, as well as sneak peeks, giveaways, and more, please sign up for J’s newsletter. www.jenniferhaymore.com Swept Away, Volume 2 © 2014 J. Haymore Why do so many women choose the worst man for them? The most dangerous choice? The choice most likely to hurt them? The one who refuses to give them the long-term happiness they yearn for? Of course I choose that one. The bigger risk. The man I know very little about. The man who’s almost guaranteed me that he’ll do nothing but hurt me. That’s the one I want. What the hell is wrong with me? I was falling in love with Ethan Williams. The man who was going to walk away from me forever in less than three weeks. I wasn’t going to think about that, though. I’d enjoy this time we had together on the open ocean, then, once we got to Hawaii, I’d let him go. No regrets. But Ethan’s secrets were deeper and darker than I could have ever imagined. I’d put my trust in someone who gave me almost nothing of himself. And if I wasn’t careful, his secrets could kill me. The following excerpt is from Swept Away, Part 2: “He’s jealous.” “Ahhhh…I don’t know why he’d be jealous,” I hedge. And is that the right word for what Kyle’s feeling right now? I honestly don’t know. “Because he’s in love with you.” The words hit me like a slap. “Oh God,” I whisper. Is this some kind of warped nightmare? “How did… Did he tell you that?” Ethan gives a short, harsh laugh. “No. But I know he is.” “No,” I groan, all about denial because I can’t face this right now. “Kyle is confused. He isn’t in love with me. He just—” “He’s been in love with you for a while.” His eyes flicker away from me, back to my cabin door again. “At least since that first day I saw the two of you together. Nalani has sensed it too. She’s having a big problem with it.” My jaw drops. If he knew, if Nalani knew, how could I have missed this for so long? What were the signs? Am I really this naïve? Yes. I’m clearly ridiculously sheltered and incredibly naïve. Otherwise, I would have realized my best friend’s fallen in love with me at some point in the past year and a half. I would have somehow seen it—done something about it before it reached this point. Ethan heaves in a breath, and when he looks at me again, the ring of blue around his eyes is black in the dim light of the cabin. His spine has straightened, and his shoulders go square. “Is there any chance that you might reciprocate his feelings?” He means the question to be emotionless, but there’s a sharp edge to it, a razor blade of feeling he’s trying to hide. His expression is also calm, also emotionless, but his gaze is so direct, so intense, it’s as if he’s peeling me open like an orange, determined to see if the fruit inside is sweet or sour. I shake my head and tell him the truth. “No. He’s my friend. My close friend.” “You know each other well.” “Yes.” “You’re very physical with each other.” “Are we?” I try to act unaffected by his observation, but then it hits me. Oh God, he’s right. Kyle and I are more physical with each other than normal friends. We’re more physical than brothers and sisters. We hug and we lean on each other, and sometimes, when we’re watching a movie at home, we lie pressed against each other under a comfortable blanket. But it’s never, ever been sexual. Not for me, at least. Was I unwittingly giving him hints that it was? Did all that comfortable closeness translate to me leading him on? “Yes, Tara. The two of you are very physical.” “I…” I push out a breath through my closed lips. “Yes. But it wasn’t that kind of physical.” “But you could fall in love with him.” Ethan’s words come out tight and biting. The force of his stare prickles under my skin. “It could happen.” All this sudden emotional intensity must have something to do with him being jealous of Kyle, like Kyle seems to be jealous of him. I’m considering this when he throws my assumption out the window by saying, “You should.” “Should what?” “Love him.” Ethan is dead serious, but his words don’t compute. They don’t make any sense. “What do you mean?” “He would be good for you. He’ll protect you. He loves you.” He doesn’t say it flat out, but his words imply it. I won’t protect you. I don’t love you. “What about you?” I whisper. He shrugs, but it’s not the casual movement I think he intended it to be—it’s a tense, tight raising and lowering of his shoulders. “I can’t,” he says through flat, white lips. “I told you before—I can’t—won’t—do long-term relationships. And you deserve one. You deserve someone who can love you in the way you should be loved. Someone who—” He breaks off suddenly. Something flickers in his eyes as if he’s lying, or as if he’s cut himself off from telling me something he doesn’t want me to know. If we were in a poker game, I’d call his bluff and go all in. But maybe he isn’t lying. He’s probably being completely honest with me, again, and I’m reading something that I want to be there but just isn’t. “I can’t give any of that to you,” he says quietly. “It’s impossible.” The hurt that slams into me feels like it’s crushing my windpipe. I wrap my arms around my knees and stare at the opposite wall of my cabin, trying to find my breath. He touches my shoulder, and as much as I don’t want him to see the emotions that must be written all over my face, I turn back to him anyway. I’m evidently incapable of telling my body not to react to Ethan’s touch. When he sees my expression, his softens. His voice gentles. “Tara…” The tears I hold at bay blur my vision. “I want to be all these things to you,” he murmurs. “But as much as I want to, I’ve told you I can’t. He can, though. Kyle can be everything to you.” “No,” I rasp out. “Yes. He loves you.” “It doesn’t matter. It’s…he’s…he’s not you. You’re the one I can’t stop thinking about. You’re the one I want…the one I need—” Ethan rears back, a stunned expression on his face. It’s like I’ve slapped him. Slowly, he shakes his head at me. “Don’t,” he whispers. “Don’t what? Don’t fall for you? It’s too late—you know, you know I already have.” “It can’t last.” My teeth gnash together, hard. I am so tired of hearing him say that. “I know.” “I don’t want you to miss your chance with him if you choose me over him now. You shouldn’t do it. You should make the right choice and—” “Why are you trying to get rid of me?” “I’m not!” His palm slams down on the built-in chest of drawers beside my bed. His face is alight with some kind of emotion I can’t quite pinpoint. Is it anger? Frustration? Anguish? I clutch my pillow to me like a shield. “I just know Kyle is better for you.” He grinds out the words as if it’s physically painful for him to say this to me. Good. Because it’s physically painful for me to hear him saying it. “Kyle isn’t you,” I repeat firmly, because it’s true. There’s only one man who can bring me happiness right now, and that isn’t Kyle. It’s the man sitting on my bed, trying to convince me to fall in love with someone else. A part of me agrees with him completely. He’s absolutely, one hundred percent right. Kyle has never treated me as flippantly as he does his “bedmates,” and I know he’d never, ever hurt me. He’s an open book. He’s the safe choice. I know exactly what I’d be getting from him. I’d be getting…a lot. All of him. For Kyle to say he loves me… God. I know for a fact he’s never said that to anyone else. A new kind of hurt swamps me, threatening to drag me under into darkness. What am I doing to him? To my best friend in the world? Why can’t I just love him back? Why do so many women choose the man who’s the worst for them? The most dangerous choice? The choice most likely to hurt them? The one who refuses to give them the long-term happiness they yearn for? Of course I choose that one. The bigger risk. The man I know very little about. The man who’s almost guaranteed me that he’ll do nothing but hurt me. That’s the one I want. What the hell is wrong with me? I dig around in my head, trying to conjure some feeling for Kyle, but all I can come up with is that sisterly, bestie love that I’ve always felt for him. But maybe…if I tried… There’s so much good to see in Kyle. He’s the best man I’ve ever known. He’s gorgeous. He’s fun, and he makes me laugh. I think of walking with him on the beach. We’ve walked on the beach together a lot, but this time, we’d be holding hands. Kyle would be wearing his wetsuit peeled down to his narrow hips. Drops would sparkle over his tanned chest and on the wave tattoo on his arm. Our heads would be tilted toward each other, and we’d be laughing. It’s not an unpleasant image. At all. “Kyle can make you happy,” Ethan tells me softly. I look up at him, and all thoughts of being with Kyle vanish, wiped away by the image of Ethan as he stares at me as if trying to convince me what he’s saying is true. As if he’s pretending he really wants me to agree with him, but deep inside, he can hardly bear to lie to me like this. His straight blade of a nose. His slashing black brows. His high cheekbones and cheeks with their persistent dark stubble. His soft, kissable lips. His hot gaze. The way his lips feel on mine, and the way his body feels against mine. The way he holds me and talks to me and touches me… “I can’t help it,” I say softly. “You’re the one I want. Nothing can change that.” He releases a long, harsh breath. “Fuck.” And then he plucks the pillow out of my arms. His arms wrap around me, and he jerks me toward him. His mouth crashes against mine, hot and hard and possessive. His tongue dips into my mouth, and I capitulate with a little gasp, letting him in, my body opening like a blooming flower ready for more. Wanting more. His lips move from my mouth and travel hungrily up the side of my face. His hand splays over my lower back, then pushes up my spine until my nape is in his palm and his fingers are digging up into the roots of my hair. I press harder against him, and his steely erection pushes against my stomach. “I know it was the right thing. I know I had to do it,” he murmurs as he kisses me. He licks my lower lip, then sucks it into his mouth. “Try to convince you.” His lips move over my cheek, over my hairline and into my hair. “But the thought of you with him…with anyone… I’m too damn selfish, Tara … Fuck. I don’t know what’s happening, but I can’t stop it.” A shudder that seems to come from deep in his bones makes his body vibrate against mine. He holds me steady by the back of my neck as his lips move to my eyebrows. They press over my closed lids and down my nose and then across my other cheek. It’s as if he’s marking every inch of my face, claiming my skin as his own. And I let him. I want him to claim me as his. I can’t remember ever wanting anything more. “I’m sorry,” he whispers against my cheekbone. I just groan, because I don’t want to talk. I don’t want his apologies. I just want him to keep kissing me. “He’s better for you. I should have convinced you.” “No,” I growl out, pressing myself tighter to his erection, shifting so I can feel that bit of friction as he moves against me, “you couldn’t have. Nothing could convince me.” He shudders again. I’ve never seen him so uncontrolled, so open. His whisper is rough, erotic, and full of emotion. “I’m done. I’m done trying to convince you. But I don’t want to hurt you.” “Then don’t,” I say simply. * * * * * Curious about Justine? Here’s a little more from her (from Swept Away, Part 2): September 30, 2006 My old roommate Ginny’s back. I swear, she’s like a little parasite that won’t let go. The games I play with her were entertaining at first, but now they just bore me. She bores me. No…it’s more than that. She’s so damned empathetic, so incredibly, condescendingly understanding. And her friendship with Ethan… God, I don’t know how much more I can take. Of course, we’re roommates again. Did I mention how parasitic she is? Daddy bought a great house for me in Palo Alto, which I pretend to rent along with my three housemates. Katie and May are good little housemates who mind their own business. But Ginny? No. She squirmed her way into my house by being kind and wonderful and such a “good friend.” (Gag.) She’s always asking me questions, and they’re ridiculous ones, like, “How did that make you feel?” and “What did you feel the need to do after that?” I am always tempted to tell her I felt the need to snap her neck, but I know better. My life is good. I have Ethan. I’m not about to mess that up. I wish I could just live with Ethan, but Daddy’s having none of that. Once I graduate, maybe I can talk him into it. I’ve got nine months more of this… I just have to endure till then. I wish Ethan had asked me to marry him over the summer. He didn’t, and I know he probably wants to wait until I’m done with school, but he can’t know how anxious I am to marry him. To further tie us together, under God, under the law. It’s not an unbreakable tie, I know—in fact it’s probably not as meaningful as Ethan’s involvement in Triton… Well, maybe it’s just the idea. That once upon a time and happily ever after every little girl wants. Even me, I guess. Anyhow, back to Ginny. I do not like how she is always around when Ethan’s over. It annoys the shit out of me. Worse, she and Ethan have become friends of sorts. They seem to share a common interest in the psychology of business, a topic I find ridiculously dull. I don’t like their easy camaraderie. I don’t like their joint interest. I really don’t like Ginny getting near him at all. This is life. I know this. Ethan will have women friends throughout the rest of our lives, and I need to be okay with that. I’m trying to view this as a learning experience for the future, a way to learn to cope with inevitability. But I can’t let go of the rage, Dear Diary. It’s so damn hard. And every time I see Ginny and her petite little body and her russet-brown bouncing bob and that sickly sweet smile, the rage grows. I want to crush her like a bug. But I won’t. I will control it, like I’ve learned to do. That’s the hardest thing in the world for me, Diary. But I’m doing a good job. I’m strong…stronger than anyone will ever know. By the way, have I ever told you about Susanna? I don’t think I have. Susanna was a girl in my elementary school. She was rich and smart and pretty and bossy, and everyone viewed her with a kind of reverent fear. She was the most controlling little bitch, and I hated her. She showed up at my sleepaway camp when I was twelve. It was my camp! I’d been going there for three years already by then, but she showed up and began to try to control everyone and everything, including me, in her typical way. All I could think about was how I had to get rid of her. I was young and not very smart, and I didn’t take the time to thoroughly think through the steps of getting rid of an annoying pest. Instead, I jumped on the first idea that came to mind. I dared Susanna to come swimming in the lake with me at midnight. I intended to drown her—it seemed an easy enough method, given the convenient, large body of water. But the girl was stronger than I expected, and she had the lungs of a banshee. She screamed so loud before I got a good grip on her that people came running. By the time they arrived, I’d been holding her down for less than a minute, and they were able to resuscitate her. And even though she was screechy and nasty and a complete bully, I was the one punished for trying to silence her. I spent the next year in and out of hospitals, seeing countless shrinks and doctors. The only thing they could come up with was that I’m bipolar. Sure, fine, bipolar, whatever. I’ve taken my meds like a good little girl. But the meds don’t take away my annoyance with humanity in general. And they don’t take away my rage. In fact, I don’t even understand why I do take them. Originally it was to placate my “team” (stupid word for the people breathing down my neck to make sure I was being a good little psych patient). But I’m a big girl now. No point in continuing. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I will graduate magna cum laude from Stanford. I have the best father and the best boyfriend in the world. Everything is going to be fine.


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