“I can’t stay here.”
“You know why not. Everything’s strange, foreign. I don’t fit in.”
“You’ve been here less than a week. Half that time you were unconscious and the other half you were battling sea monsters. I don’t think you can really use this time as an example of the norm.”
“Come on, Kona. This life isn’t for me. I don’t want to be mermaid. I never did.”
“Yeah, but do you really believe now is the time for you to be making that kind of decision? You’ve been through a lot. Can’t you just think on it for a few days?”
Why wouldn’t he just go away? Before all the emotions I’d been holding back came crashing to the surface and I lost it completely. He had to know how hard this was for me, saying good-bye to him when so much of my heart was tied up in his. Already I could feel the ice I’d wrapped around myself starting to melt, the numbness beginning to wear off.
I didn’t want that, couldn’t stand it. I didn’t want to feel right now—not what it felt like to be a murderer. Not what it felt like to know I would never see my mother again. And definitely not what it felt like to walk away from Kona.
I closed my eyes, worked on shoring up my defenses. If I didn’t look at him I couldn’t see the hurt in his eyes, the look that pleaded with me to stay with him. I wouldn’t be able to think about the small part of me that wanted nothing more than to do just that.
I won’t give in. I won’t give in. I said the words firmly to myself, again and again, in an effort to keep the tears at bay. I won’t give in. If I did, if I let myself break down in front of Kona, if I let him comfort me, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to work up the strength to leave him.
He walked me down to the beach, his hand warm and soothing against the frigid skin of my bare back. “Here, take this,” he said when we were right at the edge of the water.
For the first time I realized he was carrying a small, waterproof backpack over one shoulder. “What’s in it?”
He grinned and for a second he looked like himself again, like the sexy, mysterious, happy guy who had ridden a wave all the way in to me. “A change of clothes—if that tail of yours comes back, your suit will rip and you’ll end up climbing out of the ocean in nothing but your bikini top.”
“That would be a bad thing.” I smiled at the image, then immediately felt guilty. How could I be smiling when my mother was dead? When Oliwa and Malu and so many others were gone as well?
“It would be a very bad thing, particularly if Mark or any of the other guys are out surfing.” It was the first time he’d brought up Mark’s name in days, and he nearly choked on it.
“I’m not going back because of him,” I offered, not sure why I needed to say it when I was so determined that things would end with Kona here.
“I know.” He shoved a hand through his hair and for one second looked much more like a vulnerable boy than the tough, strong guy I knew him to be. “Stay. Tempest. For me. For us. Please stay.”
I shook my head, backed away even as the need to do exactly what he said rose inside me. But I couldn’t. I had responsibilities back home—my family, school, Mark. I had a life back home.
Why then was it so hard to picture that life?
“It would be a disaster, Kona.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I do. I can’t spend my life pretending to be something I’m not.”
He shook his head and when he looked at me this time, I swore those silver eyes of his could see straight through the brave face I was putting on to the terrified girl who lurked just under the surface. “Funny. That seems to be exactly what you’re going to do.”
I stiffened, started to argue, but he laid a soft finger across my lips. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for. You’re right—you need to be where you feel most comfortable. I just wish that was here with me.”
So did I. Dear God, so did I. The thought came to me too late, just as he lowered his mouth to mine. And then I couldn’t think of anything as my head started that familiar whirl it did whenever he kissed me. Only this time it was so much worse, because I realized that this really was the very last time he would ever hold me.
Thunder clapped across the sky, but I held it in check. This wasn’t the time for one of my temper tantrums. If this was the last moment I’d ever have with Kona, then I needed it to be about more than just dodging lightning.
Because he was so much more.
This time it was my hands that came up, my hands that cupped his face and held him to me as his lips moved over mine. He smelled so good, like cinnamon and the sea. Like love. I pressed myself against him, wanting to savor every sensation of this kiss. Not wanting to forget one single detail.
He inhaled sharply and tensed against me, then wrapped his arms around my back and pulled me even closer to him. So close that I could feel the tremors racking his body. So close that I could bathe in the heat of him.
It was a mistake—even as I did it, I knew that I was making a huge blunder. Because the numbness started wearing off the second he touched me, the cold dissipating under the onslaught of his warmth.
It soaked inside of me then, everything that was Kona and the two of us together. It lit me up from the inside, until there was nothing but the two of us, this moment and this kiss.
I wanted to devour him, to take everything I could get as my lips moved ravenously over his. I wanted to lose myself in his arms, to forget everything that was driving us apart and everything that might keep us together. If I could just get beyond the tenderness to the need, then maybe …
But he wouldn’t let me. Like me, he knew this was our last kiss. Unlike me, he wasn’t willing to waste it in the flash and dazzle of one quick moment of passion. Instead, he gave me the one thing guaranteed to choke me up, the one thing I didn’t want but desperately needed. Tenderness.
His mouth moved gently over mine, soft and sweet and oh so good. It was different from his other kisses, less exploration, more giving. And then it was my turn to tremble as his tongue stroked slowly over my own.
I wish I could explain what it felt like, those moments with Kona as the moon shone brightly overhead and the ocean played tag with our feet. My heart was beating so fast that there was no longer any space between my heartbeats. My breathing was ragged, a mixture between the pain of leaving and the pleasure of this moment. And my soul, my soul was screaming out for him, for my mother, for the innocence I’d lost when I stabbed Malu and watched his lifeblood leak through the water. I’d woken up this morning convinced I was covered in his blood.
It was that thought that got me moving, that had me ripping myself away from Kona and stumbling a few feet down the beach. The world was spinning around me and I didn’t know if it was because of the kiss or everything that had come before it.
In the end, it didn’t matter anyway.
“It won’t bring her back, you know.”
“What?” I asked hoarsely, my eyes shooting up to meet Kona’s for what might very well be the last time.
“Running away. Giving all this up. It won’t bring your mother back.”
“I know that!”
“Do you? Really?” The understanding was gone from his face, the patience and the sorrow buried under a layer of anger that made it so much easier to step into the water. So much easier to leave. Maybe I should thank him for that.