“Aren’t you going to kiss me good night?”
“No.” Not if she had any sense she wasn’t. His hands went to her shoulders, massaging them. It was a delicious, delicate caress that sent a flood of heat coursing through her. “You tried that on the ferry. It didn’t work the first time.”
“How do you know? I’d barely touched you when you ran off to your car.”
“I did not run off,” she protested, even though she knew she had. “Besides,” she continued. “I’m not the little girl that everyone’s been telling you about anymore. I know what a woman is supposed to do when a man she wants kisses her.
“She’s supposed to melt against him and put her fingers in his hair and sigh longingly against his lips. It it’s a particularly good kiss, she might even tremble a little. At the very least, she kisses him back. I didn’t do any of those things.”
She’d hoped to wound his ego with her provocative words, but it had the opposite effect. His smile broadened as his hands slid down her arms to settle on her waist.
“As you said, there wasn’t time. I think we owe it to ourselves to try it again.”
“I told you on the ferry. I’m not interested.”
This was the second time in one day that someone had dared her to prove something, and frankly, she was getting sick of it. She crossed her arms in front of her. “What exactly do you expect to gain by this?”
“I get to have my way with you.”
“I get to have my way with you. I’m sure they’ve heard about these things, even in such remote places as Martha’s Vineyard.”
Oh, yes, she’d heard of it. It was near impossible to think about anything else. But with all these people in the house, “having his way with her” was at best an idle threat. “And if I win, I get to –”
“Have your way with me,” he interjected.
“To be left alone.” She couldn’t believe she was actually going to submit to this. “Is that a promise?”
“Scout’s Honor.” He lifted one hand from her waist long enough to make the obligatory sign.
She let out a sigh. “Go ahead.” There was a side benefit to this madness. She could put an end to her cousin’s ridiculous matchmaking schemes. Jenny couldn’t fault her if he avoided her of his own free will. “You don’t welsh on your bets, do you?” she asked, just to be sure.
“I won’t have to.”
Watching his lips descend toward hers. She held herself still, arms at her sides, teeth and lips clamped firmly shut. That would teach him.
That’s what she thought before his mouth touched hers. His lips were not sweet and gentle as they had been before. This was an urgent, passionate kiss that demanded a response. She couldn’t give him one, nor could she pull away; then he would win by default. How had she gotten herself into this mess?
It only went to prove Gran’s old saying about trying to “fix” people: Whenever you set out to dig a grave, dig two.
Excerpt, part two:
Ariel walked along, not watching where she was going, enjoying the cool breeze and the pungent scent of the ocean. It was amazing how she’d managed to clear her mind of all worrisome thoughts with a simple walk along the coast. It had always been like that, a strange sort of self-renewal.
She had never been disturbed by anyone on these walks. In a way, she thought of this beach as being hers at night. She was quite alarmed when she heard footsteps in the grass leading onto the beach. So alarmed, she let go of her skirt and the stones tumbled all over her feet. The tide immediately took a number of them out with it.
It didn’t take her long to discern to whom the tall, masculine body
striding toward her belonged. Every pore agreed it was Jarad, long before he was close enough for her to see his face. Who else made her so nervous she couldn’t pick a few simple stones out of the sand?
He stopped a couple of feet in front of her. She could see his sneakers, but she refused to look up at him. She was intent on saving as many of her stones as she could. Many of them had become embedded in the sand.
He squatted down beside her. “What are you doing,” he asked.
Ariel turned the flashlight so it shone right in his eyes. That would teach him to sneak up on people. “I am collecting the stones you made me drop.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. He was grimacing, holding a hand in front of his eyes. “Would you put that thing down.”
She did, feeling sufficiently avenged. “That’s what you said the last time, if I remember correctly.”
He laughed. “You mean on the boat?”
“On the ship. Ferries aren’t boats they’re ships.” She’d found all the stones she was ever going to find. She stood and put them in her pockets this time. The hem of her skirt was damp and clinging to her calves. “I’m going inside,” she announced.
“So soon?” He stood up quickly, brushing the sand from his jeans. “It’s early, and its beautiful out.” He made an expansive gesture with his hands. “And it deserves two people to fully appreciate it.” One of those hands came to rest around her waist. “Come on. We could take a walk.”
She stepped away, out of his grasp. “In the first place, I’ve already had a walk. In the second place, I came out here to be alone.”
“You looked lonely,” he said softly. “I was watching you from my
balcony.” He nodded in the direction of the house. “I thought I’d come out here and rescue you.”
“Rescue me from what? I like being alone. Sometimes I prefer it.”
He laughed again, a rich melodious sound that made her want to bean him with the flashlight. “To being with me, you mean.”
“You could put it that way.”
“You have to be the meanest woman I’ve ever met.” His voice was full of amusement.
“How do you expect me to be when you’ve spent the entire afternoon making fun of me?” She turned her back to him, staring up at the stars. Why did you really come out here Jarad? Decided you couldn’t wait until Saturday to collect payment?”
“Would you forget about that damn bet!”
She snapped around to face him. “Why should I? You haven’t. You spent all afternoon reminding me about it. If it’s so important to you, go ahead. You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t join in.”
She saw him moving closer to her on the sand. He couldn’t possibly be taking her offer seriously. Maybe she should have learned her lesson about trying to get back at him last night. Though the hands that rose to cup her shoulders were gentle, she couldn’t hold back a tremor that shivered through her body. Was that fear — or something else?
“Not on a bet,” he said simply.
She opened her eyes, searching his face in the dark. He’d spoken those words so seriously and his gaze on her was so intense that it sent another tremor through her. This time she was sure it wasn’t fear.
“Jarad…” The word slipped out on a sigh. She had no idea what she wanted to say.
“I wasn’t making fun of you this afternoon. I was trying to get you to lighten up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look serious playing Frisbee before.
“Oh,” she said, averting her gaze to his chest. If her face had borne any expression at all it was because she’d been observing him. The first part of any psychological experiment was observation. Some part of her had been going along with Jenny’s “love experiment” all along.
“Then why did you make that bet with me in the first place?”
“I don’t know. You were driving me crazy. First you pretended never to have met me on the ferry.” Then, If I’m not mistaken, you were flirting with me.”
Blushing, she turned her face from his. He hadn’t been mistaken. She hadn’t thought he’d noticed.
I was trying to…”
She glanced up at him. “Teach me a lesson?”
“No. To find out what you were up to.” She could barely make out his smile in the dim moonlight. “And, you wouldn’t have kissed me otherwise.”
She smiled, too. No she wouldn’t have kissed him last night. She
probably still shouldn’t have. She had the feeling that it set something in motion that she didn’t have any control over.
“Does this mean we’ve called a truce?” Jarad asked, his hands settling on her waist. She looked soft and shy, almost vulnerable. The wind stirred wispy tendrils of hair about her face. He smoothed them back with the palm of his hand. Then his fingers tangled in her thick black tresses, tilting her head back. She looked incredibly lovely, looking back at him through the thick fringe of her lashes. Even in the dim moonlight, her eyes seemed curiously luminous.
Her hands were at his shoulders. He wasn’t sure if they were there to act as encouragement or restraint. He decided to kiss her anyway. The worst that could happen is that she’d run back to the house and never speak to him again.
But she didn’t run. She practically melded right to him. Her arms wound around his neck as if they belonged there. He hugged her to him, feeling surprised and elated and oddly triumphant. And he felt a desire more powerful than any he’d known stirring inside him. How could she have gotten under his skin so quickly?
He pulled away, watching as her eyes slowly flickered open. She smiled. He’d half expected her to tell him to unhand her in that proper way she had. But she didn’t. She smiled. He let out a very pleased sigh.
“Now, isn’t that better than fighting?” he asked, lifting her and
spinning her around.
“Yes,” she laughed. About four hundred and eighty times better.
“What’s so funny,” he asked, setting her down on her feet.
“Oh, nothing.” She looked over his shoulder in the direction of the house. Now hear this, Jenny Douglas, you hopeless romantic. You wanted an experiment, you’ve got one. But for God’s sake, please don’t be wrong.