Authors: Christie Ridgway
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction
When she finally quieted, he moved up her body again, pressing kisses to her closed eyelids, her forehead, her mouth. She remained lax and sated for several minutes, one of her hands sifting idly through his hair until he bent his head and gave one soft, pouting nipple a tiny bite.
She jumped, opened an eye.
He smiled. “Shall we sleep a little?”
Even in the dim light he could see a flush rise up her face. “No,” she said, her gaze flicking to her breast. The tip had hardened again, responding to the edge of his teeth. He bent to the other, gave it the same treatment.
“Oh, God.” Meg urged him over her with eager hands. “Come here. Come here, I need this.”
He wanted her to need him, he thought, as he reached into the bedside drawer for a condom, one of those he’d packed in his toiletry kit and then stashed here, just in case. Like a Boy Scout, always prepared. She tried to help him roll it on, but her touch was no aid at all. Wrenching to the side in breathless laughter, he told her to leave this part to him. “You just concentrate on opening for me, baby.” Protection donned, he moved back to her.
Let me have you, Meg.
Let me in.
Holding tight to his control, he carefully watched as he breached her tight heat. She drew in a breath, held it, and he went still, talking her through the first inches of penetration.
“That’s right,” he murmured. “It’s okay. I won’t hurt you. I’ll never hurt you.” He pressed deeper, felt her flinch. Again, he halted his progress.
“Take your time. Your body will adjust to me, sweetheart. Go soft, honey. You’re so wet, your body’s ready for me. Let your mind catch up to that.” Her muscles were clamped on him like a velvet vice, and he knew she was caught between coiling desire and feminine defense. How could he blame her, when he wanted it all?
He gave a gentle kiss to her mouth, then drew in her bottom lip, sucking it sweetly. “Let down your guard,” he whispered to her, and slid his palms beneath her bottom.
“Please.” There was frustration and desperation in her tone. “I want it, Caleb.”
“Shh shh shh. I know,” he said, tilting her up for a better angle. “Just loosen up and let me in.”
Then she lifted her head, taking his mouth in a torrid kiss. The minute her tongue skimmed his, her inner muscles eased, and he slid straight to the hilt. They both groaned.
His body took over then, enticed by her sleek heat. He surged into her over and over, aware that their breaths were in sync, that he was holding her down to the mattress so that all she could do was writhe against him, pinned by his lunging cock.
It was the hottest sex he’d ever had, until he opened his eyes and looked at Meg’s beautiful face and it hit him again, another heart-smite, and he stopped breathing altogether at the wonder of it all. Could it really be…? But of course it could, because nothing had been like this before, no woman made him feel so much tenderness and lust and crazy certainty that they had to make this happen.
That they had to be together.
“Meg,” he said, but his voice was too gruff for such declarations.
She moaned, wiggling some more, and her inner muscles clenched again, this time in demand. His lust spiked at the feel of her squeezing him and he knew the crisis was at hand. He put his mouth to her neck, compelled to mark her with a tiny bite. She cried out, lifting herself upward and he slid one hand between their bodies, a nudge all that was needed for her to detonate again.
His was a slower explosion. The orgasm shuddered through him, rattling his bones, quivering his muscles, making him spasm in absolute, astonishing pleasure.
When it finally faded, he withdrew from Meg then dropped to the mattress beside her. Rolling his head to look at her, he pushed her hair from her face, then used his thumb to caress the love bite he’d left on her neck.
“You’ll have a bruise,” he told her. At that sign of his possession he felt very primal—and not the least bit politically correct. “Should I say I’m sorry?” Though he wasn’t. Not at all.
She was his, damn it. Forever.
“No worries.” Her smile was sleepy and sweet. “It’s temporary, just like us.”
* * *
Meg realized too late that she should have slipped out after the spectacular sex. By the time she opened her eyes, it was past daybreak, and there was a man sitting on the mattress with a mug of coffee in his hand, watching her.
“Good morning,” she said, meeting his gaze square-on. The sex had been a mutual choice, and she wasn’t going to start feeling shy about her part in it now. Still, she worried about striking just the right note. It had been a one-night stand and she didn’t want to give him the impression she expected anything more than that.
“I think it is a very good morning,” he said, and held out the mug.
With the sheet clutched to her bare chest, she struggled to a sitting position and then claimed the coffee. It smelled delicious and a little like… “Cinnamon?” she asked, sniffing.
“A trick I learned from my sister. You sprinkle it over the grounds before brewing.”
“You really are trying to become domesticated.”
“After my heart surgery I decided I needed a few more dimensions to my life,” Caleb said.
Meg didn’t like thinking of him in a hospital, his chest being opened. She’d kissed him there the night before, right over the scar, just before drifting off to sleep. It was covered now by a simple T-shirt, the pale green color a contrast to the golden tan of his skin. Taking another sip, she noted the newly shaved skin of his face and the shininess of his damp hair. Really, he was ridiculously handsome, she thought, as warmth started pooling in her belly.
Not a good idea. Remember—one-night stand!
“What time is it?” she asked, glancing around for a clock. The overcast sky she could see through the window made it impossible to guess.
“Nine?” she squeaked and shoved the mug in his direction, preparing to leap from the bed. “I never sleep late. I have things to do—”
“Like what?” he asked, pushing the coffee back into her hands.
“I… well, something. People will be checking in today.”
“What time? How many?”
“Several families. But not until three this afternoon,” she admitted.
“So there’s plenty of time for coffee, breakfast, followed later by the picnic I’ve planned,” Caleb said.
Meg scowled. She should have told him an army was expected by ten! “Caleb…” Thinking back, she replayed the moment on Captain Crow’s deck when she’d offered to sleep with him. Hadn’t she made clear it was a single session she was after, a way to address and then eliminate the almost adolescent fascination she felt for him?
Damn, she realized she’d not been clear after all.
A flush crawled up her neck to her face. “I should have said…it’s not that last night wasn’t nice—”
“From my side of the blankets, it was damn fabulous.”
It was hard not to be pleased about that. “Well, yes, for me, too.”
“Good.” He leaned in and pressed a kiss to her mouth, the touch gentle and unassuming.
Beneath the sheets, her toes curled. “Still,” she said, rallying her good sense. “I wasn’t supposing, you know…” God, how to say this?
“When I came to the cove I wasn’t supposing anything, either, Meg,” he replied. “So how about we stop concerning ourselves with expectations and just enjoy the day? I’ve become quite good at that.”
Since the surgery, he meant, and the second reference to it quelled her objections. She could have a picnic with him, she supposed. It didn’t mean anything would go further than that.
Another night in his bed wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
But enjoyment—that did seem to be foregone. Caleb had already proved himself a charming companion and that didn’t change as he coaxed her into exploring the cove with him, Bitzer at their heels. They wandered along the hiking paths winding around the hillside behind the cottages, finding evidence of the small creeks that kept the tropical vegetation lush.
She found herself telling him about her great-great-grandparents, Max Sunstrum and Edith Essex. The moviemaker and the ingénue. Their love affair and subsequent marriage were the stuff of legends. “Some accounts say he was so obsessed with her he made her quit acting. He didn’t want her to have any other leading man but him.”
“Isn’t there something about a missing piece of jewelry?” Caleb asked. “Given to Edith by her final co-star?”
They stopped in the shade of a palm tree, and the breeze made a silvery sound through the fronds. “An old Hollywood rumor,” Meg said. “Our family has never really bought into it. It’s purported to be a magnificent choker nicknamed ‘The Collar,’ inspired by the last movie made here,
“There’s Cleopatra’s barge and everything in that one, isn’t there?”
Meg glanced over. “You’ve seen it?” At his nod, she smiled. “When we were kids, we wished the barge had survived way more than some dumb necklace.”
“I can’t imagine growing up here,” Caleb said. “It must have felt like being shipwrecked on your own private island.”
“Sometimes,” she admitted. “Especially in the off-season when my sister, my parents and I were often the only ones here.” That’s when their mother would tell her stories about the merpeople and every day had felt enchanted.
After eating the lunch he’d provided—Caleb admitted to stocking up on deli stuff before moving in to his cottage—they continued their walk on the beach, starting at the tide pools on the northern end and strolling along the sand to the southernmost point, right in front of Beach House No. 9.
They paused there, staring up at it. “The numbers on the houses refer not to their geographical location, but to the order in which they were built. My mom always claims this one holds a special charm for lovers, though, just like in the song ‘Love Potion No. 9’.” Meg slanted a look at Caleb. “Sentimental stuff, huh?”
He opened his mouth as if to speak, then shrugged, and bent to pluck something from the firm sand. A clam shell, bone-white with gray rings toward the outer edge. His thumb stroked over the surface. “I bet you collected a thousand of these in your lifetime.”
“Maybe a million,” Meg said. “My sister Skye and I pored over our beach treasures like other kids did trading cards.”
He glanced up. “I remember one particular treasure you had…a piece of abalone shell, I think it was, that you’d strung on a leather thong for Peter. He wore it everywhere.”
“Yes.” Her fingers found Bitzer, and she rubbed his thick coat. That fragment had been part of her collection forever, and one of her prized possessions because it was shaped like a heart. She’d given it to Peter that summer ten years ago, and told him it was just that. Her heart. “He wore it all the time except when he went into the ocean.”
Caleb petted the dog as well, his lean hand caressing Bitzer’s flank. “So you have it then.”
“No. We don’t know what became of it. Maybe that day, that time, he kept it on when he went out…though it was never recovered.” Even when Peter’s body and his kayak had shown up a day later, on a beach five miles south of the cove.
A beat of silence went by, the quiet only filled by the rush of the waves. “I’m sorry if my mentioning that made you unhappy,” Caleb said. He stepped around the dog to pull her close.
Although she knew she shouldn’t, Meg leaned against him. “It’s all right,” she said. “There are those sad memories, but so many happy ones at the cove, too.”
“Tell me,” he urged, taking her hand and turning to direct their walk back up the beach.
And the next thing she knew she was doing just that, mixing up her mother’s merfolk stories with the real-life escapades of the cove kids who had run wild every summer. She laughed out loud, remembering the games they’d invented, the sand abodes they’d built, the miniature popsicle-stick boats they’d launched or the real-life rafts they’d attempted to construct out of driftwood lashed together with rope.
Before she knew it, it was nearing three o’clock and she had to rush to the property management office to meet the newcomers. When her duties were over, she locked up, only to find Caleb and Bitzer on the sand right outside.
The dog sat beside his master. Caleb was staring out to sea, the wind ruffling his hair. Again she couldn’t help but admire the width of his shoulders, the strong muscles of his back that she could see through the thin cotton of his shirt. But it was that calm stillness that attracted her most, she thought, as if the mere act of breathing in air was something to which he gave his utmost attention.
Apparently sensing her presence, he turned his head. “Business done?” he asked, holding out his hand to her.
She went toward him, drawn like a magnet. Once her bottom touched the sand, he drew her close. It was the most natural thing in the world to drop her head to his shoulder.
“What should we do now?” he asked idly.
She should tell him what they should do now was head to their separate lives. But it didn’t seem right to upset the affable mood. So she shrugged.
“We could go for a swim,” Caleb said.
“I don’t go into the water anymore.” She didn’t even gaze upon it. Right now her eyes were focused on the beach. In her peripheral vision she could just glimpse the white foam stretching toward their feet, but that was the closest look she allowed herself.
Caleb drew her more snugly to his side, then sighed. “I guess it’s sex then.”
The words took a moment to sink in. Caught between amusement and exasperation, she turned her head to look at him. “What? Isn’t that a trifle presumptuous?”
“My mother always said that about me.”
Meg laughed, then pushed at him. “You stop.”
He fell to the ground, then pulled her on top of him. “Not gonna.” With a roll, he had her flat on the sand and his weight was on top of her, the effect more thrilling than she cared to admit. “Haven’t you ever heard of afternoon delight?”
“No,” she lied. “And even if I had, I remind you we’re on a public beach.”
His mouth touched her eyebrow, her cheek, her nose. “There’s nobody around.”
“You didn’t even check!” she protested, giggling when his mouth tickled the rim of her ear.