Or, more precisely, I didn’t see a shoe box. As my eyes roamed the room, I noticed a small box on the built-in nightstand that was part of the bed. A small, black, velvet box.
A jewelry box. It rested on top of a cream colored envelope. I opened it with trembling fingers and unfolded the note inside as carefully as I could. My breath caught in my throat as I read the words in Noah’s script.
This belonged to my mother, but it was meant for you.
My heart thundered against my rib cage and my pulse fluttered beneath my skin as I put down the note and finally looked inside.
THE DARK JEWEL WAS THE COLOR OF MIDNIGHT and it glittered with fire. A hundred diamonds or more surrounded the sapphire in a loop and extended into a long strand, which uncoiled into my palm. I had never held anything so precious. I was almost afraid to put it on.
I glanced at the door. I half-expected Noah to appear to clasp it around my neck, but he didn’t so I did it myself. The necklace was heavy but the weight felt right, somehow, around my throat.
I tied my hair back in a knot, then left the room. My bare feet found purchase on the narrow ladder as I climbed up to the dock where I knew I’d see Noah. My heart was beating fast and I bit my lip as I emerged.
He wasn’t there.
Perplexing. I slowly let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding and looked around. We were far from the marina now, floating in a large, dark turquoise expanse of water dotted with many other boats. Tangles of seaweed floated by on the surface, the foam from another boat’s wake clinging to the water. There were people, too; some drifting in tubes, others flying kites off the decks of their boats. An old man floated by us on an orange foam noodle, with neon green sunglasses on his reddened face and a neon pink beer cozy in his hand. A preppy college student in plaid shorts and a dumb little straw hat manned a shiny yacht that blasted the air with inane lyrics and a pulsing, officious beat. He tossed his cigarette butt in the water. Ass.
And then, as we sailed under a beautiful, old-fashioned white drawbridge dotted with street lamps, the landscape around us changed. We passed a golf course peppered with palm trees on one side, and beautiful homes lined the opposite shore. The backyards were thick with peach and olive trees, or rose gardens with arbors surrounding full tennis courts. A lonely frame ladder stood in one yard, there to trim a menagerie of hedge animals into their respective shapes. The house beyond the yard was enormous, Tuscan style, with tiered arches spanning the length of the floor to the ceiling.
I leaned my arms against the prow, taking in the lavish mansions; the modern glass and steel monstrosities and the attempted charm of the sprawling older homes. The boat rocked gently beneath my bare feet. I spent so much time feeling sick these days that I was mildly surprised at not feeling sick on the boat.
A blast of loud music assaulted my ears and I looked up. Someone in one of the homes had turned on a massive outdoor speaker system. I heard the angry wail of guitars and crashing electronica in the background, and a growling singer yell about damage and abuse and saving yourself.
We passed an enormous boxlike house, a throwback to the sixties, I guessed, and then floated by a grand, white mansion with soaring windows that faced the water. Greek statues bordered the intricately landscaped lawn, and something about it felt—
Because it was Noah’s house. I almost didn’t recognize it from here; I had always been on the inside looking out, but now I was out, looking in.
But I didn’t see or feel any sign that we were stopping. That apparently wasn’t where we were going. Curious.
The houses soon gave way to forest. An enormous banyan tree bent away from its roots, saturated with Spanish moss that kissed the water. The dying sun reflected off the surface, casting rippling shadows beneath the tree. Palm trees on either side of us bent and swayed, heavy with coconuts. Then the forest became less dense. We passed pylons with nothing tethered to them, their weathered wood exposed at mid-tide. A palm tree with the top cut off stood at attention to our right, just a tall stump that punctured the air.
And then, finally, I saw where we were headed. A small island appeared in front of us—we had passed many, but I felt, I knew, that Noah was on this one. Waiting for me.
We sailed around to a narrow dock that jutted out into the ocean. The crew anchored the boat and Ron helped me step off, but didn’t join me. He just nodded to the end of the small pier, and I began to walk.
The wind had untied my hair and now it hung loose in dark waves over my bare shoulders. The wood beneath my feet was smooth, worn down by air and water. I lifted the hem of the dress—I would die if I tripped—and wondered where I was going.
I didn’t have to wonder very long; at the end of the dock, small torches rose out of the ground, and their flames guided my way. I followed them down the beach until finally, I saw him.
It was hard to appreciate how beautiful the silent, secret beach was with Noah standing there, looking like sex in a slim-cut tux, lean and tall and extravagantly gorgeous. I dropped the hem of the dress, along with my jaw and my thoughts and everything else.
“You’re here,” he said.
The sound of him, the sight of him, stole my words away.
Noah gracefully crossed the sand and dipped his head to meet my eyes. “Mara?”
Noah smiled that crooked smile of his and I thought I might dissolve. “Should I be concerned?”
I managed to shake my head.
He took a slight step back and considered me. I felt his eyes slide over my skin. “You’ll do.”
I broke into a brilliant smile. “You too,” I said, my voice strangely hoarse.
“You mentioned a tux in your fantasy, so . . .”
“Actually,” I managed to say, “I believe you mentioned a tux in your fantasy.”
Because I was too limited to comprehend what he would look like in one. I adored Noah’s I-can’t-be-bothered-to-care wardrobe of worn shirts and destroyed jeans, but this . . . there were no words.
“Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. “Perhaps you’re right.”
My smile widened. “I am right.”
“Well,” he said, his voice even as he glanced back at the dock. “I suppose if you’d rather go back to your house . . .”
I shook my head vehemently.
“This will do, then?”
Would it ever. I nodded.
“Excellent. Oliver will be pleased.”
“The tailor I rarely have the occasion to use. He was thrilled when I called, even though he had to drop everything to make it in two weeks.”