“Come on, let’s go.” He dropped her hand and began walking toward the car, but she stepped in front of him to block his path.
“The same thing happened to me,” she blurted out. “I can’t remember the last time I broke any rules, or did something crazy fun just for the hell of it. All I do is work and take care of my clients and build the business. I have no regrets, either. I’m exactly where I should be. But sometimes I want . . .”
“A spark,” he finished. “To feel alive.”
“Yes. So we’re going to sneak onto the beach. Follow me.”
She grabbed his hand back, and they ran down the path. She picked the entrance on the south side that was always less crowded and away from the main center of town. A flimsy wooden gate snaked its way around the edge of the beach, and the entrance was barred by a low chain with a sign that said NO TRESPASSING! BEACH CLOSED FROM 9:00 P.M. TO 6:00 A.M. SUBJECT TO FINE!
A thrill tingled through her. They looked back and forth, but the path was deserted, and there was nothing but the sound of the waves crashing over the shore. They ducked under the chain, took their shoes off, and ran toward the water.
A laugh burst from her lips. It was such a little thing, sneaking onto the beach, but she was suddenly pumped with adrenaline. She snuck a glance at Carter and caught the same satisfied expression on his face, shadowed in moonlight. They reached the shoreline and slowed their pace. She rolled up the legs of her jeans and hooked her sandals over her fingers. Her toes curled into the packed, firm sand, the bite of cold water tickling her flesh and flirting with her ankles. The air was sharp and clean. The stars spilled over a black velvet canvas, highlighted by a heavy, ripe half-moon hanging low.
“I used to do this with my sisters,” she said, breaking the comfortable silence. “We’d sneak out at bedtime and come to the beach. Sometimes we’d meet boys, sometimes it’d be just us. Bella loved to swim, but then I’d hum the Jaws tune, and she’d get scared and run out.”
“Mean,” he said with a laugh. “Were the three of you always close?”
“Yes. We’d have the usual fights over clothes and who borrowed what, and who was Mom and Dad’s favorite, but it never passed the barrier into cruelty. We loved each other, but like in all families, we got stuck with certain tags.”
His fingers brushed hers and lingered. He’d pushed up the cuffs of his shirtsleeves to bare sinewy arms. He stood close, his hips pressed lightly against hers, their feet almost touching. “What kind of tags?” he asked.
“I was the oldest, so my mother was always pushing responsibility at me. I think that’s another reason I wanted to go to college at Georgetown. I needed space to grow and play on my own. I was the practical one. The leader of the group, as my parents would say. Bella was the beauty—my dad calls her Goldilocks. She fell in love, got married early, and wanted a ton of kids to raise. Poor Taylor got stuck with the rebellious tag. The troublemaker. She was always asking questions and challenging them at every turn. Drove them crazy. She has a wanderer’s heart and always wanted to travel the world on her own terms. After Matt died, we all pulled together to manage the business, and then my parents retired. Taylor got stuck here longer than she wanted.”
“Will she stay?”
She shook her head. “I hope not. She promised to give us another year here, and then she’s off. I don’t think the wedding business is for her. But she wanted to prove to my parents that she could do the right thing.”
He let out a long sigh. “It’s funny how we become the way others perceive us. It starts with families, goes into school, social media, everywhere. No wonder everyone’s on antianxiety meds and desperate to be happy. We don’t know who we are anymore.”
His words stirred deep inside her, touching a part that had been long buried and forgotten. She turned sideways and tilted her chin up. “You’re right. Maybe more people need to sneak onto a beach and figure it out.”
He smiled. God, he was so different like this. Open and relaxed, bare feet in the sand, his face emanating a sexy warmth that heated her blood. The vast quiet and isolation around them lent itself to sharing secrets and being reckless. She moved closer on impulse, angling her body so she could study the sharp curve of his jaw, the stubble hugging his lips, the mysterious, misty depths of his eyes. His dark hair blew in the breeze, tumbling over his forehead. Her nipples tightened and pushed against her flimsy shirt, and suddenly her body ached for something more . . . something to fill the emptiness. It had been so long since she’d felt like this. Alive, and free, and hungry to experience something wonderful and new.
His smile faded. The easy camaraderie drifted away, and the energy shifted, kicking into high awareness. He stiffened, his sharp gaze raking across her face, probing for answers. “Avery?” he whispered.
“You’re different like this,” she said softly.
His jaw clenched. “I’m the same. I just don’t get to show this part.”
Her hand seemed to move on its own, reaching up to touch his biceps, her fingers trailing over the hard-muscled length in an exploratory caress. “I like it.”
He sucked in his breath.
A thrill coursed through her at his obvious arousal. She leaned in a few more inches, raising up on her tiptoes. Their gazes locked.
“What are you doing?”
“I don’t know.” The night surrounded her, and the ocean roared, and his scent filled her head, musk and male and spice. Her insides clenched with a longing. He gripped her upper arms and stared down at her. Blistering heat seethed between them, and a drunken headiness made her body soft and pliable, leaning into his strength.
“I think you do.” His breath raked over her trembling lips. “I’m way past the age of impulsive decisions and late regrets.”
Avery licked her lips. “Maybe we both need to relax our standards.”
His palm cupped under her chin, holding her still, and he muttered a soft curse. “Maybe you’re right. God knows I’m no damn saint. And right now, I want this more than I’ve wanted anything in a long time.”
His mouth covered hers.
The shocking heat and softness of his lips rocketed through her. From the first moment, he was in control of the kiss, sipping from her mouth like tasting a fine wine, savoring her texture and flavor with a leisurely pace that throbbed with an undercurrent of ferocity. His arm slinked around her waist to pull her up and close, his body flush with hers so every muscle pressed against her curves.
She opened her mouth in invitation, and his tongue slipped inside, each slow, silky thrust causing her toes to curl in the sand. A moan rose from her throat, and he captured and swallowed it while he explored and conquered every secret crevice.
Her head spun. She clung to him, helpless under the sensual mastery of his mouth and lips and tongue, her body craving more. Her fingers thrust into his hair, and her hips arched, the thick, hard length of his arousal against her inner thigh. He took the kiss deeper, devouring her with a raw hunger that made a matching need explode within and scatter through every cell of her body.
“You taste so good,” he muttered against her mouth, nipping at her bottom lip. His hands moved to stroke her body, cupping her buttocks to lift and hold her tight.
“So do you.”
“I want more.”
“Take it,” she breathed against him, the madness of lust edged into her voice.
He groaned, kissing her again, and hooked his fingers inside her jeans, caressing her through the thin silk of her panties. His touch burned, and she shuddered. Her core dampened and ached for his fingers, mouth, cock, and she dug her fingernails into his shoulders with a punishing fierceness. He ripped his mouth away, breathing hard, then ran his tongue down her neck, nibbling, sucking, driving her mad until his teeth sank in and she cried out.
The waves crashed and roared. The stars dripped like thick honey from the sky. And the night urged all her inhibitions to fall away under the wickedness of his hands and mouth on her body. He tugged on her shirt, edged the lace of her bra down with his teeth, and sucked on her nipple.
She ground out his name the same time she ground her hips against his, looking for relief. He murmured dark, sexy words as he pleasured her breast, and she wrapped her arms tight around him, urging him down to the sand.
She didn’t register the flash of light until it was too late. The bright beam lasered over her face and into her eyes, startling her out of the sensual fog. Carter immediately placed her behind him, his large body blocking her from the intruder.
It was only when she heard the voice that she realized she was in big trouble.
“Sir, ma’am, the beach is closed after hours. The sign is clearly posted.”
Oh. My. God. She was going to die.
Carter sounded calm, not as if he’d just gotten caught making out on the beach illegally like some horny teen. “I’m sorry, Officer. Our mistake. We just wanted to take a quiet walk. We’ll leave now.”
Avery ducked her head low as Carter took her hand and began leading her toward the police officer.
“We have rules for a reason,” the policeman said in a thick Jersey accent, his tone registering disapproval. “There’s been drownings at the beach at night, and we want to keep our people safe.”