My smile slipped at the sensation. My heart ratcheted up, my body coming alive in a familiar way. The water didn’t seem so cold anymore. The waves lapped against our skin as he held me firmly. The bright blue of his eyes darkened slightly as his gaze dropped to my mouth. I was panting softly. Definitely from the swimming and the shock of being thrown in the water, I assured myself. Except I couldn’t catch my breath now, and the hand that wasn’t holding me close to him slid down my thigh, catching me at the knee to hook me around his waist. My hands were frozen on his shoulders. I was afraid to move. He positioned my other leg so I was completely wrapped around him, my lips inches from his.
“God, you’re beautiful,” he whispered.
He brushed his fingertips along my cheekbone and down my jaw, the way he had at the office after I’d met with Daniel. Except his eyes weren’t filled with concern. They were filled with something far more serious, a hunger that was slowly working its way through me. My fingers itched to move, but I resisted.
My eyes closed, and a vision of Blake passed behind them. The familiar pain shot through me, like an ice pick through my heart. I winced and untangled myself from James’s body. Without waiting for a reaction, I ducked under the water as he had, swimming as fast as I could toward the shore. Fuck, fuck, fuck. This was the absolute last thing I needed right now.
I stepped clumsily out of the water, the pull of the tide nearly knocking me over as I tried moving in the opposite direction. Stepping into the air chilled me further, but the sun was still high in the sky. I wrung out my shirt, shorts, and my hair as best I could. Lying down on the warm sand, I welcomed the healing heat of the sun. I closed my eyes against the brightness and tried to concentrate on the sound of the waves.
My breathing slowed, and I idly wondered if my hour was up yet. What the hell was I doing? This was wrong. Way wrong.
James lay down beside me with a quiet rustle of his shorts and a shaky exhale. I opened one eye to see him lying on his side. He was propped up on his elbow looking at me, a pensive frown marking his beautiful face.
“There it is again.” His voice was quiet.
“That look. I was really hoping that somehow I could make that go away, but there it is again.”
I sighed and draped my arm over my eyes. I wanted to melt away, wash away like the sand in the tide. “I’m sorry.”
“Why would you be sorry?”
I should just get this over with. Lay it out for him so we could stop dancing around it. I couldn’t handle hurting two people. Somehow I had to make him understand that we could only be friends. What if he didn’t want my friendship though?
I looked at him.
“You were right. I’ve been a mess, and right now work is the only thing keeping me from losing it completely. I’m trying to figure some things out, and focusing on work is the only way I know how to do that right now.”
“You know, it’s okay to feel messed up sometimes. Doesn’t mean you have to push everyone away though—especially the people who care about you.”
I sighed. “I know.”
James wasn’t the only one trying to get through to me. Marie had given me space, but I knew she was concerned. I still hadn’t talked to Alli, and the growing distance between us weighed on me. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to reach out to her beyond my vague texts. She was too close to Blake, and right now I needed as much distance as possible from him to keep him safe.
“This wasn’t so bad, right?”
I gave him a small smile. “This was fun. I do feel better.”
I wanted to say more, but against the advice he’d just given me, I decided that keeping him at a safe emotional distance was probably just as well. A part of me wanted to tell him that I felt more, to acknowledge the intense albeit brief moment we’d shared in the water, but to explain that it was a major breach in my non-existent company policies and procedures. But if I told him all that, I’d have to tell him how I was still hopelessly in love with my ex, who was probably tethering Sophia to a bedpost and fucking her senseless right now. Then I’d have to admit to myself that I’d probably never be over Blake, no matter how hard I tried.
Since we were in the neighborhood, I asked James to take a short detour on our way back into town. He drove us down the quiet street that I recognized by way of its new homes and meticulously manicured lawns. When he pulled up in front of Trevor’s house, I was shocked to find a real estate sign stuck into the overgrown lawn that marked the property as sold. Somehow the place looked even more abandoned than it had before.
The cautious relief I’d felt before disappeared. This was a bad sign, literally. The only line I had to Trevor was this place. Blake probably hadn’t dug anything valid up with the investment company in Texas since he’d never mentioned it. Then again, I hadn’t given him a chance. I was too busy breaking up with him, and now, avoiding him.
“I’m guessing this place wasn’t for sale when you came by before.”
I shook my head. “No. This isn’t good.”
“Maybe he gave up hacking and started a new life somewhere else. Took up a new career or something.”
“And put himself on the map for the first time ever? I seriously doubt it, but you get points for positive thinking.”
“Seriously, there’s no point in worrying about it. Be happy that he’s giving us a break, and let’s hope he’s lost interest.”
I sighed. “Let’s hope.”
He revved the engine, and we were off again.
We drove down Comm Ave and pulled up in front of the apartment. I slid off and returned the helmet to James. I was mostly dry, but I still felt awkward standing there. Especially after what had happened, I wasn’t sure what to say.
“Thanks for the break.”
“Sure thing. We should take breaks more often.” He gave me a shy grin.
I didn’t want to discredit his effort to cheer me up, but the attraction between us was real, as much as I wanted to downplay it. I wasn’t sure if this was all a side effect of the breakup or something more. All I knew was I didn’t need any more complications.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” I gave him a little wave and headed up to my apartment.
I made my way to the bedroom and stripped off my clothes and my bra, still damp from the ocean. I rummaged through my drawers looking for a suitable replacement.
I screamed and spun around to find Blake in the doorway, his hands on either side of the doorframe.