I expected Kona to take off with Mark, but he stayed beside me, content to move with the ebb and flow of the waves instead of cutting his own way through them.
“What are you doing?” I whispered, when I was sure Mark was out of earshot.
“What do you mean?” He paddled closer until his board was nearly touching mine. It was a deliberate attempt at crowding and one I would normally have called anyone on, but today—with him—I let it go. I had more important things to worry about.
“Come on. You didn’t just show up at this beach accidentally. You came for a reason.”
“And what reason would that be, sweet Tempest?” He lifted one eyebrow in a way I found ridiculously hot.
“That’s what I’m asking you!”
“That doesn’t seem right.” An unexpected swell came up, had both of us clutching our boards to keep from grubbing. “If you’re going to assign dark intentions to me, I think you should be brave enough to admit to them.”
“Can’t you just once answer a question without dodging around it eighteen different ways?”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“See what I mean?” I glanced away from him, watched as the wave began to set up. Panic, cold and clammy, raced down my spine as images of tumbling beneath the water bombarded me from all sides. “You never just tell the truth.”
He studied me and for once there was no humor in his expression. “That’s an interesting complaint coming from you, Tempest. Besides, the truth is a nebulous thing. If you get too much too quickly, it feels like the top of your head is blowing off.”
“It feels like that already.” I braced myself, prepared to push up.
“It’s only going to get worse.” He flexed his biceps and I realized that his tattoos looked like they were glowing, just as they had the first time I met him. There was something strange about them, that was for sure …
The observation had my stomach cramping up. “What does that mean?”
“What do you want it to mean?”
“You’re doing it again.”
“Talking in circles.”
His smile was wicked hot when he answered, his eyes pure silver, sexy and bottomless. “You want direct?” At my nod, he continued. “You’d better pay attention or it’ll be my turn to fish you out from the deep.”
But he was already up, and I scrambled to follow suit before I got rolled. As the wave crested, I managed to stay on my board—barely—but it wasn’t my most successful ride, by any means. I was too busy watching Kona ride the wave like he was born to do it.
Who is he? I wondered for at least the millionth time.
Friend or foe?
Mermaid or human … or something else entirely?
And perhaps most importantly, what did he want from me?
When I got back to shore, Mark was waiting—and so was Kona. “What was that?” Mark teased as he pulled me close. Too close. I forced myself not to struggle away from him.
“That was me doing my best impression of a Barney.”
“Or your worst,” Kona added. “Depending on how you look at it.”
I ignored Kona, kept my gaze firmly on Mark. “I’m having trouble finding my sea legs these days.”
“It’s all good.” Mark nodded toward the ocean. “You ready to go again?”
“I think I’ll sit this one out.” I settled onto the sand, my board next to me. “But you go ahead—I love to watch you surf.”
“I’ll wait with—”
“Go! I’m just going to hang for a few minutes and I’ll do the next one with you.”
“Come on, dude!” Bach’s voice drifted back to us from where he stood in the shallows. “It’s setting up.”
I shoved Mark toward the water. “Seriously, go!” I waved at Kona. “And take him with you.”
“I’ll be right back.” Mark dropped a quick kiss on my lips that felt more like a brand than a sign of affection, then hurtled down the beach toward the water, Kona hot on his heels.
It was a joy to watch them move in tandem—light and dark, security and danger. Familiar and … I didn’t know how to end the thought as something about Kona felt even more comfortable than Mark, so I just let it go.
Right before they hit the water, Kona stopped. He said something to Mark I couldn’t hear, then settled on the sand at the water’s edge. Why wasn’t he going? Why had he chosen to hang out on shore when he could be surfing?
Then he turned to me, pinned me with a look that had my heart beating way too fast. It was a look that said everything and nothing—a look that was irresistible because of the dichotomy.
Before I could figure out why I was doing it—or talk myself out of it—I stood and headed toward him. It would be nice to get my toes wet as I waited for Mark, I rationalized. That didn’t mean I had to talk to Kona at all. I could just—
He met me halfway and though he didn’t touch me, I swear I felt the slow skim of his fingers up my arm, over my shoulder, down my back. It was like I was connected to him, and not just physically. A part of me felt comfortable with him, like I could lower my guard and let him see inside me in a way I never could allow Mark.
I trembled even as I started to sweat in the cool morning air.
We settled on the sand without saying a word. Kona sat too close to me and I let him—truthfully, I wasn’t sure I wanted to stop him. We weren’t actually touching, but every breath he took brought his shoulder within a hair’s breadth of mine and I could feel the heat radiating from him like a sun. Within a couple of minutes I was toasty warm, the cold gone like it had never been.
“How are you doing, Tempest?” His words were quiet, his voice low and sensual and anything but casual. I had to work to keep my tongue in my mouth and my hands on my board even as I realized he was looking for much more than a superficial answer.
I refused to give it to him. Instead, I stiffened my weak spine and made like his voice—and the rest of him—had no effect on me. “I’m fine. Why?” I wouldn’t turn toward him.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you look like you could catch bullets with your teeth?”
“I always look like this.”
I did look at Kona then, pinning him with the glare I usually reserved for idiotic freshman boys who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. It had made more than a few cower in fear through the years.
Kona merely laughed. Hard.
It sounded like the ocean, like popcorn popping. Like happiness itself. I ground my teeth together so tightly that I swear I felt one of my right molars crack.
Why am I getting so upset? I wondered as I sprang to my feet and marched the last few yards to the water. It would have been a good exit if I hadn’t tripped in the sand like a total frube.
He caught me before I could go down, and we stood there a long time, looking out to sea while the water—ice cold and soothing—tickled our toes. Finally, when I couldn’t stand the tension for one second longer, I glanced at Kona, then froze at the picture he made. He looked different with the water touching him—less human, more magical.