This is what I lost myself in when I felt responsibility and guilt knocking on my door. I turned off my brain and became all instinct, and when I did, the grass sliding over my skin became more stimulating. The howls, cries, and hoots became a crystal clear symphony around me. The smells became an aphrodisiac.
Shutting everything out was easier than I thought. The pain, guilt, and remorse were gone. I felt free again.
Even in a full moon, the swimming hole was dark. Not quite pitch, but I couldn’t make out anything on the opposite side. This wasn’t the first time I’d visited the swimming hole at night, but I’d never come alone. Contrary to how some people might think it would feel, it wasn’t scary at all.
It was peaceful. Serene.
Slipping out of my sandals, I dipped my toes into the water. The chill from the water shot up my spine. I was contemplating if tonight’s swim would be done fully clothed or not when the charge in the air skyrocketed.
“I was wondering how long it would be before you showed up here.”
I spun around, feeling goose bumps creep up my body. Was it from the water or from him?
“Cole,” I breathed. “What are you doing here?” He was only a few yards in front of me, but with his dark shirt and shorts, along with his tanned skin, he blended into the darkness well. The only thing that really stuck out was his eyes.
He smiled sheepishly. That stuck out in the dark, too.
“Waiting for you.”
“How did you know I’d show up?” I hadn’t even known I was going to.
“It was a lucky guess,” he said with a gleam in his eyes that suggested guessing had very little to do with it. He knew I’d show up sometime tonight. I was starting to believe Cole Carson really did know me better than I knew myself.
“How long have you been here?” I wanted to approach him; I wanted to wrap my arms around him and feel his around me. My body ached when I wouldn’t let it.
Cole’s gaze dropped. Kicking something on the ground, he sighed. “Long enough to realize I owe you an apology.”
I might have just experienced whiplash standing motionless. “You owe me an apology?” I said, wondering if I’d heard him wrong.
He nodded once.
“Cole,” I said, “you don’t have anything to apologize for. I was the one who lied to you about Logan. I was the one who let us get carried away with whatever this . . . thing is between us.”
One side of Cole’s mouth pulled tight at my very specific term for our relationship.
“I’m the one who owes you an apology. A huge, heartfelt one at that.”
Cole’s eyes met mine. “You might owe me an explanation, but not an apology. You didn’t lie to me, Elle. You omitted the truth, but you didn’t bold faced lie to me.”
Okay, the way Cole was underemphasizing how wrong my keeping Logan from him was making me feel even guiltier.
“But what I said to you in the parking lot this afternoon . . .” He paused, his face grimacing. “That was cruel. And I’m sorry I said those things.”
I was speechless. Was Cole apologizing to me for being upset when he found out I’d hidden a boyfriend from him?
“I deserved everything you said to me today,” I said. “I’m sorry I lied to you.” I swallowed because I felt tears wanting to work their way into position. “I’m sorry I lied about Logan.”
Cole flinched at Logan’s name, like I’d just slapped him across the face. “You didn’t lie, Elle. I never asked if you had a boyfriend and you never told me you did. You omitted the truth,” he repeated.
“Around here, omitting a truth is the same as telling a lie,” I said, crossing my arms. I didn’t want to be let off the hook on a technicality. I wanted Cole to be mad at me. I wanted him to yell and scream at me some more.
“We omit things all the time, Elle. Every day. In all walks of life,” he said. “If we told every person we came in contact with every truth and fact about our lives, we’d all die alone.”
“That’s a pretty sad way to look at things.”
Cole took a step towards me. I ordered myself to stay where I was. “Let’s say you wake up tomorrow and your dad asks you how your night was. What would you tell him?”
I smirked at him. “I’d tell him it started out nice and ended with a lot of frustration and confusion.”
“And if he asked you what you did?”
I knew where he was going with this and I didn’t like it. “I’d say I went for a drive.”
“Exactly,” Cole said victoriously, “and that wouldn’t be a lie, but it would be an omission of what else you’d done tonight.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Fine. I omit. What’s your point?”
“I omit, too, Elle. We all do,” he said, his voice low. “Don’t beat yourself over it. I could have just as easily asked you if you had a boyfriend, but you know why I didn’t?”
I bit my lip, wondering what good any of these confessions would be.
“Because I didn’t care.” Cole took another step towards me and I knew if he took one more, my willpower would be a lost cause. “That first day I saw you, I didn’t care if you were with someone else. That night at the bonfire I didn’t care. And last night”—his eyes flashed with the reminders—“I really didn’t care. I wanted you then, Elle. And I want you now. You might belong to someone else, but you kind of belong to me, too.”
My heart was about to beat out of my chest. I’d never been talked to, or looked at, with the degree of intensity burning in Cole’s eyes. To say it was intense would have described a fraction of it.
“So don’t apologize to me. Explain it to me.” He took a breath. “Explain to me why you didn’t tell me you had a boyfriend.”
I could have answered so many ways. So many explanations for the reason I’d “omitted” it, but all answers boiled down to one.
One answer that I shouldn’t admit to Cole, especially with the way he was looking at me now. Once I told him, there’d be no going back. There’d be no going back to the point where we could play innocent. Pretend consequences weren’t a thing of our world. Pretend the guilt wouldn’t eat us away.
This was perhaps the worst possible time to take a hiatus from should.
“Because when I was with you,” I began, feeling my whole world about to change. It was heavy in the air. “I didn’t care either.”
Cole exhaled, almost like he was relieved, before taking another step towards me. I was right. The moment he took that step, my willpower vanished. I don’t know who was more surprised, Cole or me, when I crossed the last few feet between us before looping my arms around him.
I tucked my head beneath his chin and held onto him like he was all I had to keep me from drowning. I’d known Cole just over a week. I didn’t know his middle name or the name of his first pet, but feeling his arms around me was like coming home.
It was so confusing and made no sense, but while I couldn’t explain so many things when it came to Cole and me, I knew one thing for sure.
I was done fighting it.
“I’m sorry,” I said into his shirt.
“I’m not,” he replied. “I’ll never be sorry for anything that lets me be with you, Elle. Right now, I’m happy to have whatever piece of you I can.” He kissed my forehead and the warmth I felt morphed and heated into something deeper. His mouth on my skin created an instant fire that was next to impossible to resist.
But tonight, when I was all instinct, the moon was full, and should was on sabbatical, it wasn’t just next to impossible to resist. It was positively impossible.
Lifting my head from his shirt, I slid my hand to his mouth. “I’m going to kiss you now, Cole,” I said, not recognizing this girl saying these words and touching him this way. “And if you stop me, I’m going to wear you down. Because you might be persistent, but I’ve got the powers of persuasion on my side.”
The lips I was tracing my fingers over lifted into a smile. “Not if I kiss you first.”
The words barely were out before his mouth was on mine. I gasped and he took advantage of my parted mouth. His tongue slid inside, twisting against mine in a way that brought another one of those primal sounds from me.
My hands were at the hem of his shirt before I knew they’d moved there, and they’d successfully pulled it up and over his head before I could order them to stop. By the time my fingers traveled up the seam of his back, I didn’t care. The feel of his skin against mine, hard, hot, and smooth, made everything okay.
“I’m not going to be the only one shirtless around here.” His fingers played with the hem of my tank top before he slid it up and over my head. He tossed it behind him somewhere into the tall grass. His mouth was on mine again, his hands exploring the skin he’d just freed.
Our kissing was frantic, almost desperate, and I knew I would pass out from oxygen deprivation in another minute if we didn’t slow it down. I had all night, or at least the instinctual part of me did. Deep down I knew Dad would call in another half hour if I didn’t show up. I’d turned off my phone and left it back in my Jeep. The phone didn’t matter when Cole was kissing me that way.
Splaying my hands over his chest, I pressed against it. Just enough so I could catch my breath before I passed out.
“Why are we stopping?” he said, not nearly as breathless as I would have hoped. “I was just getting warmed up.”
Hoping I could find another way to make him as breathless as he’d made me, I wound my arms behind my back. “So was I,” I said right before unclasping my bra.
That Cole managed to keep his eyes firmly on mine while I slid my arms, one by one, out of my bra was a testament to his restraint. Only when it had landed at our feet did he take a step back and lower his eyes.
“Damn,” he breathed, gawking at me in a way that made my inner thighs clench. “They’re even better to stare at the second time around.” He sunk his teeth into his lower lip and grinned. “Do I get to touch them this time?”
Since he was giving me a hard time, I decided to return the favor. “No,” I said, arching my back just to make it that much more torturous. “You don’t. These are totally off limits tonight. You can touch me anywhere else.” I was kind of impressed by this inner sex goddess breaking free, but I was also scared of her. How did a girl who hadn’t even had sex with her boyfriend of two years wind up nak*d from the waist up, playing a game of no-touching-zone with a smokejumper?
“Anywhere else but there?” Cole said, partially wincing when his eyes inspected yet again what he couldn’t touch tonight. Then they dropped lower, south of my navel, and my stomach coiled. “Anywhere else?”
Even if I wanted to take back my words, I couldn’t speak with the way he looked at me. With the things he was imagining so explicit on his face, my n**ples hardened in the warm night air.
Cole took a few steps back.. Retrieving his crumpled up shirt, he spread it out over a smooth patch of earth. Then he came back and grabbed my hands. “Do you trust me?”