I stared at Kona and he looked so calm, so composed in the shadowy moonlight that for a second I doubted what I knew. Away from the water’s frightening and alluring grip, I couldn’t be certain I hadn’t imagined the last few, panic-filled minutes. And yet, it had to have happened. Right? Otherwise I was just going nuts, a thought I couldn’t bear to contemplate on top of everything else.
She wants you.
Kona’s words echoed in my head. Don’t give in to her. She wants you.
No, I hadn’t imagined anything—not six years ago and not now. Something had been in that water and Kona knew exactly what it was. “Don’t give in to what?” I demanded.
Kona’s eyes grew wary, his face more closed off than it had ever been. “Let it go, Tempest.”
“Don’t do that.” The words were loud, disjointed, but I couldn’t help that. Violent shudders had begun racking my body, making my teeth clatter together and my body jerk. “Something was trying to drag me under. I know you felt it too.”
He came forward, wrapped an arm around my shoulders, and pulled me into the shelter of his arms. He was big and broad and toasty warm—an electric blanket of heat seeping through the cold that had invaded every part of me. A small section of my brain wondered how he could feel so hot when the water and air were both frigid, but most of me was just grateful for the heat. For the comfort. It felt so right to be standing here, leaning against him as I absorbed his strength.
But how could that be? I barely knew Kona, no matter what it felt like. I had to remember that.
“The ocean around here is pretty unpredictable at night. The undertow—”
“I said, don’t!” I shoved away from him, though it cost me. Devoid of his warmth, I suddenly felt twice as cold, twice as lost.
“I’ve been swimming in this ocean since I was a little girl. I know it better than anything else, and that was not an undertow.”
“So what was it then?” He watched me curiously, as if waiting for me to figure things out on my own.
But I couldn’t. Everything was too messed up and I didn’t have enough of the puzzle pieces to be able to make a picture. “That’s what I’m asking you! You come here, all dark and mysterious, acting like you have all the answers. But you won’t tell me anything. I’m not an idiot, you know.”
“I never said you were.”
“Give me a break. You tried to convince me that what I felt out there was just the ocean.”
“It’s happened to you before.”
His words cleaved through the air between us, reminding me of what I’d come out here to forget. I wanted to whine that he wasn’t being fair, but figured that would make me sound like the idiot I’d just sworn I wasn’t. Or even worse, a baby. Besides, he was right. I had nearly bought it—
“Hey, wait a minute. How do you know about that? I met you after I nearly drowned that day.”
His eyebrows drew together and he was silent for a long time, as if searching for a believable answer. Finally, when the tension between us was as taut as a circus high wire, he muttered, “Mark must have told—”
“Stop lying to me!” I started down the beach, away from him.
I ignored him, kept walking. I was too furious to listen—or to pay any attention to where I was going.
“Stop!” I heard his footsteps pounding up the beach behind me, but was totally unprepared for the hand that wrapped around my wrist and jerked me to a standstill.
My temper flared even more brightly as I struggled to free my arm from his inexorable but strangely painless grip. “You’re going to want to let go of me.”
“You’re going in the wrong direction.” He cast an uneasy glance down the beach. “Let me walk you home.”
“I don’t need a babysitter.”
“I’m glad, because that’s not the relationship I want with you.”
For long seconds I couldn’t think, my heart suddenly beating so fast I thought it just might take flight. I told myself it was stupid to get worked up over those words—especially since I was still so angry that I wanted to lay him out on the cold, waterlogged beach. But the warning didn’t work. Hearing him admit that the strange feelings between us weren’t all from my side did something to me.
I tried to take a breath, to swallow, but the inside of my mouth felt like I’d been sucking on cotton, and a barbell had taken up residence in my stomach. Finally, somehow, I forced myself to ask, “What kind of relationship do you want?”
His silver eyes were reproachful as he bent until his face was only inches from mine. “Come on, Tempest. I don’t want to play those games.”
The barbell grew heavier as my stomach clenched, but everything else about my body felt light, as if I would float away at any second. In the tension of the moment, and the closeness of his body to mine, I forgot about the strange force in the water. Forgot about my birthday. Forgot, even, about Mark.
“So what do you want?” I whispered, again.
His hands came up and tenderly cupped my face. And then he was so close I could feel the feathering of those impossibly long eyelashes against my cheek. My heart beat even faster and there was a roaring in my ears that had nothing to do with the ocean and everything to do with the riot of emotions twisting within me.
“You,” he breathed tenderly, and the word brushed against my parted lips. I sucked it inside me with my next inhalation, held it there in my mouth, in my lungs, as I waited for him to close the scant distance between his mouth and mine.
But he didn’t move, didn’t bridge that last inch that separated us. As I stood there waiting—trembling with anticipation and curiosity and more need than I would have imagined possible—it suddenly occurred to me that Kona wanted me to kiss him. He too was waiting.
I didn’t think about all the reasons kissing him was a bad idea, didn’t think about all the extra problems it would bring into my life. I couldn’t. Not when every cell in my body strained toward him.
I kept my eyes open as I melted into Kona, letting my hands slide up his bare arms to circle his neck. And then I did it, leaned forward that last inch and brushed my lips against his.
For a moment, everything seemed to freeze—the wind, the rain, my heart. Even the ocean with its never-ending cycle of waves seemed to hold its breath as it watched us.
It obviously wasn’t my first kiss, but it was so different from anything I’d ever experienced before that it might as well have been.
Kona’s hands slid from my face into my hair, his fingers fisting in my wet curls as he kissed me again and again. Emotions rioted through me—joy, desire, fear, confusion—so many that I could barely process them as his mouth moved against mine. All I knew was that I was warm, hot even, and that kissing him was like swallowing the sun.
Then, just as suddenly as it had come, all that heat was gone. Kona wrenched himself away from me and stumbled several feet down the beach. We stared at each other, lips swelling, chests rising and falling rapidly, bodies yearning toward each other.
But now that he wasn’t touching me, I remembered everything I had so conveniently forgotten. As Mark’s face floated in front of my eyes, guilt ripped through me like a chain saw.