Crap, crap, crap . . .
She stumbled over the sand. The light wavered and came to focus on her full force, and it was all over.
Slowly, she raised her head. She wondered how bad she looked—with her lips swollen, hair wind-tossed, and her eyes still glassy from the kiss that was so much more than a kiss. “Hi, Ron.”
Ron Livery looked a bit like Ed Sheeran. He had a baby face, short red hair, and a jovial personality. They’d grown up together, and he was now a full-time police officer in Cape May. He was also a terrible gossip and loved spending aimless hours sharing stories with the tourists at the cafés. He was literally one of the worst people to catch her making out on the beach with a stranger.
“I can’t believe it’s you! Darlin’, you know better than to be out here at this hour. Wait—are you here of your own free will?” he suddenly asked, his gaze sharpening on Carter with suspicion.
“Yes! Um, we finished dinner, and it was such a pretty night, I figured no one would notice if we took a quick walk. This is Carter, by the way.”
Ron glanced back and forth between them. A slow grin transformed his face. “Yeah, sure, I get it. A walk, huh?” He laughed and shook his head. Her cheeks burned, but she knew there was worse to come. “Are you a weekend visitor, Carter?”
And let the torture begin . . .
“My sister is getting married, and Avery is the wedding planner,” he answered. “I’m here for the summer.”
“The whole summer, huh?” Was that a wink or a trick of the light? “Where are you staying?”
She cleared her throat. “Um, Ron, we should get going. It’s getting late.”
“Sure, sure. So where are you staying?”
“Jackson. It’s a beach cottage by—”
“The Virginia Cottages. Yep, I know it. Which color? Pink?”
“Nice. Love the views. Where’d you go to dinner?”
Avery wanted to scream in frustration. “Peter Shields.” She tried to walk a few steps and urge Carter ahead, but Ron just crossed his arms in front of his chest, his uniform neat and pressed and all official-looking.
“Wow, nice place. Fancy. You like the food?”
She caught the amused lift of his lip. Great, he thought this whole exchange was funny. Sometimes she hated small towns.
“It was excellent. We had crabby balls.”
A sudden silence descended.
Then Ron burst out laughing. “Crabby balls, huh? Son of a bitch, that’s funny. Well, come on, let me escort you back so you kids don’t get into further trouble.”
She barely bit back her comment that he’d been the one sneaking onto the beach with her when they were young, but she managed to behave. Ron chattered with Carter, asking a million more questions and shooting her grins that told her he approved of her choice in make-out partners.
By the time they reached the car, her head was pounding. Dear God, she’d kissed Carter Ross. And not just kissed. Felt up, stuck her tongue in his mouth, moaned his name. She’d been about to drag him down on the sand and let him do anything he wanted. Ron could have walked up to a scream-worthy scene she would’ve never been able to live down. Taylor had once been caught in a compromising situation in the back of Ugly Mug restaurant, and she hadn’t heard the end of it for years. As far as she knew, her sister still refused to eat there to avoid the teasing.
“Catch you around, Carter,” Ron said. “Avery, we’ll talk later.” He winked again, then strode off with a jaunt in his step.
She slid into the car seat and turned her head toward the window. She prayed Carter wouldn’t try to talk about what had just happened. It was too much to process. She needed to get home and think about it all in blessed isolation.
She felt his heavy gaze on her, but after a few seconds, he started the car and drove her home. This time, the silence was agonizing, bursting with unspoken questions. She clasped her damp palms in her lap, counting down the miles until they pulled up to her house.
“Thanks for dinner. Oh, wait, I paid.” She shook her head. “Okay, I’ll see you for the florist appointment this week.”
“Avery, we need to talk.”
She gave a crazed half laugh. “Oh no, we really don’t. In fact, I think we should forget this ever happened. Blame it on the call of the moon or the pull of the ocean or something like that. Bye.”
He repeated her name again, but she jumped out and slammed the door behind her. The purple cottage had never looked so welcoming.
She hurried inside, slumped against the wall, held her breath, and waited him out. Eventually, the headlights dimmed and the car disappeared.
Her lungs collapsed. Tomorrow, they’d both wake up, laugh about the incident, and move on. They’d shared an impulsive kiss. It didn’t have to mean anything. Not every kiss meant something. Maybe it was even a strange experiment they needed to have in order to move forward planning this wedding together. All that locked-up, backed-up, sizzling attraction could lead to nowhere.
The ridiculous explanations soothed her. She got ready for bed, watched a bit of television, and collapsed into sleep.
Too bad she dreamed of making love to Carter Ross on the beach.
Too bad it was so damn good, when she woke up, she tried to go back to sleep in order to do it again.
She wanted to forget it.
Carter scratched his dog’s rump and watched her little leg begin to kick in ecstasy. No wonder he adored Lucy. She was simple, loved him completely, and allowed him to make her happy. In reality, he’d just kissed a woman who’d made his head spin like moonshine, and she’d frantically told him to forget about it.
Irritation pulsed through him. He didn’t just recklessly kiss women under the stars. His life had been stringently controlled for so long, he’d forgotten what it was like to let go. Maybe it was a lesson that doing impulsive things was a bad idea. Because the first time he tried, he got rejected.
Lucy whined when he took a break, pushing her damp nose into his palm, then licking him. Instantly, his heart was soothed. He resumed scratching, his mind sifting through the memory of last night. She’d literally burned up in his arms. There was no way Avery Sunshine was being polite, or having some harmless, reckless fun. No, that kiss had been sheer intensity, ripping through every one of his walls and rocketing toward his core.
Not just the physical core. The emotional one.
Much more dangerous.
He remembered the taste of her, sweet like raw honey dripped over his tongue. The breathy moans from her lips, the sting of her fingernails as she dug into his flesh, the way her body had madly pressed against his, seeking more. That kiss had consumed them both and been more than either of them expected. It had burst open feelings he’d never thought possible.
If Ron hadn’t interrupted, who knew what would have happened.
But he had, and she’d run. Wanted to forget. Thought it was easier to ignore his texts today, pretending the kiss was nothing. Because if they acknowledged there was something more between them, there’d be a mess on both of their hands.
She was a woman who probably believed in weddings, love, and forever. He was a man who’d sworn to never allow such emotions in his life, because he’d experienced firsthand how poisonous the result could be. She was his sister’s wedding planner and best friend. He was eight years her senior. They lived in completely different states. The only thing they could possibly have was a short summer affair, and he bet Avery would fight him every inch of the way.
Unless . . .
Unless he could convince her it was the perfect setup. Her work schedule had little downtime for dates or relationships. He could be the one to scratch an itch. Fit into her life as she wanted him. He still had a month in Cape May ahead of him, stretched out with nothing to do but help with the wedding and lie on the beach.
It was possible he’d be able to tempt her with him being at her beck and call, whenever she needed him. He wouldn’t mind being used. Not by her.
Not after that kiss.
“What do you think, Luce?” he asked, stopping his servitude to take a swig of beer. The television murmured low in the background, and he was sprawled out on the sunporch, enjoying the view of the ocean in the distance. Not a bad vacation at all. But it would be better with Avery in his bed. “You think I can seduce her into seducing me?”
Lucy threw her head in doggy annoyance, her pink bow bouncing merrily. Her nose tipped up in arrogance. She took a long time to warm up to women, especially if they got close. It had taken his sister a while to get her to finally accept she was part of the family, too.
“Bitch,” he said fondly, patting her head. “I’m going to try anyway. I know it’s been a while, but I’ve never experienced a kiss like that.”
He laughed, cuddling her, and drank his beer while he studied the ocean, thinking of Avery. Her fierceness and passion for her work. Her sharp mind and refusal to lose a bet. Her joyful laughter.
But most of all, that gut-stirring, explosive, perfect kiss.
And how much he wanted to experience it again.
When he walked into the room, her stomach tumbled.
Not a good sign.
For the past two days, she’d been desperately trying to forget the kiss. She’d ignored his texts, figuring she needed a bit of distance to reset before she saw him again. They had an appointment with the florist on the schedule, so there was no reason to see or talk to him beforehand.