I shift my gaze out the window, into the rain, and I’m startled to find Finn gone, but Dare is in his place. Jogging along the trail, up from the beach, he strides confidently and unaffected by the downpour.
In fact, when he’s on the edge of the lawns, out in front of my window, he stops abruptly.
Then his gorgeous face tilts upward and his eyes meet mine.
I stop breathing.
I stop thinking.
I just lift my hand to the glass, pressing it there, as though Dare’s hand is resting against my own. The rain runs in rivulets down the pane, around my fingers like tears, and Dare’s eyes soften. Without a word, he lifts his hand.
He holds it there, as though he’s touching me. As though he’s comforting me from things he has no knowledge of.
But what I know, is that he is comforting me.
His presence comforts me.
He knows it. That’s why he stands in the rain for several minutes more, for so long, until he’s absolutely drenched, until finally, finally, he drops his hand and continues on his way, through the rain and onto the trails.
He disappears into the canopy of trees, and then he’s gone.
Gone from me.
I realize something as I linger with Finn’s crazy thoughts in my lap.
I’ve never felt quite so alone before.
VIGINTI ET VNUM
I somehow pull myself together by morning, after losing hours of sleep, tossing and turning and panicking. By morning, I’m calm.
I have to be.
I can’t fall to pieces because I have to put Finn back together.
At breakfast though, he seems utterly normal and grins at me over his cereal.
“I’m sorry I fell apart last night,” he tells me casually, putting his spoon down and taking a bite of his bagel. He has an appetite. This is good.
I smile hesitantly. “It’s ok. I’ll keep an eye out for your journal, Finn. It’ll turn up, I promise.”
He smiles angelically. “I know.”
His calm demeanor almost alarms me, as though he knows I have his journal. But that can’t be true. If he knew, he’d freak out, and tear my room apart hunting for it.
“Do you want to do something today?” I ask him as I pour my orange juice.
“Can’t,” he mumbles around his bagel. “I’m going to sort through my stuff, and lean it down.”
“Do you want help?” I feel my eyebrows knit together. He’s acting so aloof.
He shakes his head. “Nah. I’m still not feeling that great. You should go do something with Dare.”
This snaps my head up. He wants me to do something with Dare? What the hell?
He shrugs, then chuckles because my astonishment is apparent. “What? You’re leaving at the end of the summer. You should have a summer fling. It’s on every girl’s bucket list, right?”
I roll my eyes at that, although my insides are leaping. He isn’t going to make me feel guilty for spending time with Dare? It’s like the Heavens are opening up and God is smiling upon me.
“I don’t know,” I answer. “I’m too young to worry about a bucket list.”
“Just go,” he tells me, pushing away from the table. “Dare was asking Dad how to get to Warrenton last night. You should take him yourself.”
The fact that I’ve been there a million times before doesn’t matter, because I’ve never been there with Dare.
“I’ll be back in time to eat dinner with you!” I call to him. He waves over his shoulder without looking.
I’ve been dismissed.
Suddenly I feel like I’ve broken out of jail, like I’m free and I have to hurry and make my getaway. I all but run for the Carriage House, and I’m still breathless as I knock on the door.
I’m even more breathless when Dare answers it.
Because he’s shirtless.
In fact, he looks like he just stepped from the shower because his hair is wet. And his chest is bare. I can’t help but stare at the bare skin, the muscled abdomen, the lithe torso, and the perfect, chiseled V that disappears into the top of his jeans. A silver belt buckle shaped like a skull is positioned perfectly-centered a few inches beneath his belly button.
I swallow hard, then swallow again.
The corner of Dare’s mouth twitches.
“Yes?” he asks, his lip curling at the corner. He has to know the effect he has on me. He probably has it on everyone.
I swear to God my intention is to ask him to go to Warrenton Beach. But my tongue has a mind of its own.
“Draw me,” I breathe, surprising me and surprising him. His eyes widen, and he stares at me.
“Draw you,” he repeats slowly, hesitantly, his eyes never leaving mine.
I nod. “You’ve drawn me from your imagination, but wouldn’t a real model be better?”
Without waiting for a reply and before I can think the better of it, I nudge past him and enter his little house. He stares at me, his eyes like black molten lava, and I can tell he’s trying to figure out how to handle me. So before he can say anything, I turn, forcing a confident grin.
“Where do you want me?”
Don’t reject me. That’s all I can think as I stare at his gorgeous face, and I must be crazy because there’s no way he’s going to do this.
“Calla,” he says huskily, his tongue darting out to lick his full bottom lip.
“Don’t,” I interrupt him before he can turn me away. “Draw me, Dare. I want you to.”
He stands as still as a statue, studying me, his body so long and lean.
“Please,” I add finally, my whisper husky. “Where do you want me?”
I count the beats as he stares at me, as he ponders me.
“Just a minute,” he finally answers, interrupting my internal counting, his eyes black as night.
He crosses the room and pulls a chaise lounge to the middle of the living room.
“You can sit there.”
He sounds so professional. I do as he asks, and I perch on the edge of the seat, my nerves dancing along my skin, disbelief pulsing through me.
He’s going to do it. He’s going to do it.
“Close the blinds,” I tell him softly, as I unbutton my shirt.
I can’t believe I’m doing this.