“I’ll grab a shirt.”
If you must.
He calls out at me.
“If you look in that chest by the door, you’ll find an extra helmet.”
I do as he says, and sure enough, there’s one there.
“Why do you have an extra?” I ask, pulling it out and closing the lid.
“Because you mentioned that you might want a ride,” he answers, re-emerging from his room, a shirt in his hand. “Safety first, and all that.”
He pulls the shirt over his head, and I’m not sure what I’m more enthralled with. His rippling abs, or the fact that he bought me a helmet.
Specifically for me.
It’s enough to make my stomach flip.
“Thanks,” I murmur.
He throws a look in my direction that can only be classified as sizzling. His near-black eyes spark with heat, and it’s enough to set my nerve-endings on fire.
“Are you ready right now?” Dare asks me. “You can leave your picture here.”
I shrug, trying to be casual. “It’s as good a time as any.”
He grins. “That it is, Calla-Lily.”
When we’re standing in front of Dare’s bike, a shiny black Triumph, it looks aggressive and intimidating, and I’m suddenly nervous.
Dare glances at me. “Don’t have the balls?”
I toss my hair back and laugh.
“I think we just established that I don’t have balls. Right?”
I could swear he flushes as he shakes his head.
“That’s true. I just saw that for myself.”
And now I’m the one flushing as I see my reflection in his dark eyes, as I remember how I’d just laid in front of him, half naked.
Dare motions for me to climb on behind him, which I do.
“Hold on tight, Calla-Lily.”
Within moments, we’re gliding down the mountain road and my arms are wrapped around Dare, and the nervousness fades away.
Because I belong here with him.
I belong perched behind him with my chest is pressed into his back. It sends sparks shooting through all of my nerve endings. His heat bleeds into me, his strength, and I want to soak it all in.
I rest my cheek against his shoulders and lazily watch the scenery blur past as we sail through town, and then over the Youngs-Bay bridge. The heavy bike vibrates between my legs, and I can suddenly appreciate the appeal of the bike and the open road. No wonder Dare has LIVE FREE tattooed on his back.
There’s nothing more freeing than this.
We hug the road with the wind in our faces and too quickly, the ride is over.
Dare guides the bike into a parking spot and we dismount. It takes a second to get my land-legs again, and Dare grins as he supports my elbow. His touch is electric and I want it. And I can’t think because lying half-naked in front of him has addled all of my thoughts.
It takes me a minute to realize that he’s talking about the motorcycle ride.
“I loved it,” I announce. “Let’s do it again.”
He winks at me. “Well, we’ll have to get home somehow. But first, let’s take a look at this wreck, shall we?”
I grin and pull him toward the beach, to where the remains of the old wreck rise out of the mist. It’s weathered bones look at once ghostly and impressive, skeletal and freaky.
Minute by minute, I’m brought out of the charged sexual atmosphere from his cottage and into the brisk sea air of the moment.
“The Iredale ran aground in 1906,” I explain to him as we walk. “No one died, thank goodness. They waited for weeks for the weather to clear enough to tow her back out to sea, but she got so entrenched in the sand, that they couldn’t. She’s been in this spot ever since.”
We’re standing in front of her now, her masts and ribs poking out from the sand and arching toward the sky. Dare reaches out and runs a hand along one of her ribs, the same hand that he slid along my na**d hip, the same exact movement, calm and reverent.
I swallow hard.
“It’s a rite of passage around here,” I tell him. “To skip school and come out here with your friends.”
Except I never had any friends, other than Finn.
“So you and Finn came here a lot?” Dare asks, as though he read my mind, and his question isn’t condescending, he’s just curious.
I nod. “Yeah. We like to stop and get coffee and come sit. It’s a good way to kill the time.”
“So show me,” Dare says quietly, taking my hand and pulling me inside the sparse shell. We sit on the damp sand, and stare through the corpse of the ship toward the ocean, where the waves rise and fall and the sea gulls fly in loops.
“This must’ve been a good place to grow up,” Dare muses as he takes in the horizon.
I nod. “Yeah. I can’t complain. Fresh air, open water… I guess it could only have been better if I didn’t live in a funeral home.”
I laugh at that, but Dare looks at me sharply.
“Was it really hard?” he asks, half concerned, half curious.
I pause. Because was it? Was it the fact that I lived in a funeral home that made my life hard, or the fact that my brother was crazy and so we were ostracized?
I shrug. “I don’t know. I think it was everything combined.”
Dare nods, accepting that, because sometimes that’s how life is. A puzzle made up of a million pieces, and when one piece doesn’t exactly fit, it throws the rest of them off.
Like right now, for instance. I was lying na**d in front him just a while ago, and now here we are, acting like nothing happened.
“Have you ever thought of moving away?” he asks after a few minutes. “I mean, especially now, I think maybe getting a break from…death might be healthy.”
I swallow hard because obviously, over the years, that’s been a recurring fantasy of mine. To live somewhere else, far from a funeral home. But there’s Finn, and so of course I would never leave here before. And now there’s college and my brother wants to go alone.
“I’m going away to college in the Fall,” I remind him, not mentioning anything else.
“Ah, that’s right,” he says, leaning back in the sand, his back pressed against a splintered rib. “Do you feel up to it? After everything, I mean.”