I love her.
God, how I love her.
While she climbs in, I say, “Chloe?” She looks out at me before she buckles in. What am I doing? My heart is in my throat, and talk of the future balances on the tip of my tongue. I have no idea how to do this, never wanting to be this open, this up-front, this honest with anyone. Then I hear my mom’s words . . . As for you—you’re too young to settle down. Date. Love. Have fun, but don’t make the same mistakes I did. So, I hold back. “I missed you, too.”
The moon shines in her eyes, stars in her smile.
I was wrong before.
This. This is my favorite.
“No way!” Chloe states defiantly and then takes a few steps away from the edge, turning her back to it as if that will make it disappear. Crossing her arms over her chest, she shakes her head in protest. Over her shoulder, she tosses me a glare that could level an average man. “You want me to go in there?”
Good thing I’m not an average man. “Yes, I do,” I speak to her back. “Come with me. You’ll be fine.”
Her huff hits her shoulders for extra dramatics. Peeking back at the lake, she eyes the waves that softly lap the rocky beach. “I didn’t wear a swimsuit. You didn’t tell me we were going swimming. You said to dress casual!”
“It’s not a conspiracy, Chloe.” I really wish I could stop chuckling, but she makes it so damn hard. Hard all over if I’m being truthful. “No one’s around in the middle of the night and look at that lake—”
“I have and I can’t believe you want to go in there, and naked to boot.”
The food has been picked over and the bottle of wine emptied. Red Solo cups and the remaining Hostess cupcakes are on the blanket spread in front of the SUV. It’s just us and the night. “I don’t need a lake to want you naked. C’mon. It’ll be fun.”
Glancing back, she asks, “What’s in the lake?”
“Sharks,” I deadpan.
“That’s what I’m worried about. What about snakes?”
Although I’ve never worried what’s around me at the lake, she has me taking a look around at the tree line. “I’ve never seen a snake. Anyway, you grew up in Newport. There’s water everywhere. Do you swim?”
“I swim. But during the day and in water I can see through, if I have a choice.”
“You don’t swim in the ocean?” Please tell me she’s experienced real water in nature.
“I prefer Bermuda or the Maldives, not the Atlantic, and I haven’t been in a lake since I was ten at summer camp. A fish touched my leg, and I never went back.”
“To camp or in a lake?”
I already stripped my clothes off and am standing waist deep. “I can’t promise a fish won’t find you interesting, but I’ll do my best to protect you.”
Her gaze lowers, eyeing the gentle wave wide-eyed. She even dips a toe in, and then her whole foot. Every time we’re together, she becomes bolder, not inclined to hide what she likes or doesn’t.
I fucking love it.
What I don’t love is the distance between us. I’m ready to feel that rush that only touching her will give me. I hold my hand toward her, silently begging her to join me. If she does, the victory will be so sweet. “Trust me, Chloe.” Yes, that’s a lowball thing to do to her, but I threw trust out there anyway because I’m an asshole.
The debate in her eyes reaches her lips when she troubles the lower one with her teeth. “I’m not a strong swimmer. I’m scared.”
Winning her trust in new situations is an aphrodisiac. “I’ll be right here. I’ll hold you. We don’t have to go any deeper than this.”
Despite voicing her fears, she doesn’t appear to be scared when she walks deeper into the water, eventually taking my hand. “You won’t let go of me?”
“I’ll never let you go.” Spoken from my heart to hers.
She nods and then reaches for the clasp of her bra. I should note that getting her shirt and jeans off were the easy part. That’s before she knew I wanted her to come swimming. I’ll take mostly naked with her over fully dressed any day.
“What if we get caught?”
I shrug. “Then we get caught.”
Her hands fly to her hips. “Not funny, Joshua.”
I’m chuckling because I know there’s no one around this part of the lake. There shouldn’t be. “It’s private property.”
“That’s my point. Getting caught and breaking the law weren’t a part of my plans tonight.”
“I didn’t know you had made plans tonight.”
Worry creases her forehead. “For real, Joshua. I don’t want to get in trouble.”
Music drifts through the open windows of the Blaze, joined by a chorus of crickets and the sound of nature. “We’re fine.”