Undertow: A compilation of short beach stories, page 3
Bret stood. “I’ll walk you to your room.”
They rode the elevator in silence. When they got to her room, he walked forward until her back was against the door.
“I want to kiss you,” he said.
“But I shouldn’t—”
“You have to.” She hiccupped. “You’re my slave,” she added quickly.
His hand cradled the back of her head as he pushed her further against the door. With no more talk or ceremony, his lips crashed into hers. His tongue traced her top lip and she opened her mouth a little wider, inviting him inside. He accepted. That wasn’t all she wanted inside. She wanted the hard length of male arousal she’d felt earlier.
Her knees parted a little and his leg took advantage of the room, slipping in between her thighs. As his tongue played inside her mouth, she sank a little onto his leg. Oh, God, tequila brought out more than the truth. It brought out her inner slut. She moaned into his mouth.
So much for not wanting a guy. And, what a man. His hard-on pressed into her belly. Oh yeah, Bret was quite a man. He pulled back abruptly, as if she had pounced him instead of the other way around.
“I’m good.” Something about his face made her want to reassure him. “Your confidence doesn’t scare me.” It made her feel bold. She pressed her breasts into his chest. “Kiss me again.”
He took the keycard from her hands and slipped it into the lock. But as soon as the snick of the door sounded, her stomach flipped over. “Oh, God.” She pushed inside and ran to the bathroom, where she lost the best linguine and clams she’d ever eaten.
She felt his hands in her hair, and then a wet washcloth across her mouth. She didn’t want to open her eyes from the shame. She’d upchucked a meal that likely cost Bret more than he made in tips in a week. Once her stomach emptied, he tucked her into bed and the last thing she remembered was a protective hand on her shoulder.
A sliver of island sunshine cut through the curtains. Bret looked over at a sleeping Ava.
Her pink lips parted, and her eyelids fluttered as if lost in some dream. He could have watched her for hours. Well, he had watched. Given her condition, he couldn’t have left her alone.
After Ava fell into dreamland, Brett called downstairs to ensure her friends got messages from the staff under their door. He knew how women worked. If she hadn’t checked in, they’d break down the general manager’s office door demanding an investigation.
Bret perched himself alongside her sleeping body and drank in the sight of her slight curves. He loved how women’s waists dipped down, like a valley, to rise again with their hips. Each women’s angles were different, special.
Ava stirred and shifted to her back. She crossed her hands over her chest, which rose and fell in shallow breaths. He traced a fingertip along her wrist line. With her delicate skin, he could create quite the pattern—and many burns. He’d have to be careful. Perhaps nylon instead of his preferred hemp rope.
What was he thinking? She was a guest of his resort. Not your rope bunny.
He ran through what he knew about Ava Hollins. She had lost her job. A man was involved. She likely suffered inside. No one made light of such loss as much as she had last night without feeling devastated inside.
He supposed he should have told her he owned the place and others. He’d have to tell her the truth about his position at some point. But he hadn’t enjoyed a woman’s company like hers in years. He loved her unself-conscious banter. As soon as she learned the truth about him, that familiar, invisible barrier would rise. She’d see him as a boss—someone to please and now afraid to offend him and damage her reputation. Especially since it sounded like she’d already been through such a scenario.
When they first sat down in the restaurant, her forehead had wrinkled and her eyes had widened, fearfully, for him. In addition to her fragile skin, she had a tender heart. When was the last time anyone feared for him? Yes, being an ordinary person had an advantage. People treated you more honestly and with compassion.
Ava sighed deeply and turned onto her side once again.
So restless, beauty.
He eased himself up on his elbow and let his gaze run from her chestnut hair splayed out on the pillow, down her creamy shoulder to her waistline. Her back presented a white canvas, taunting him.
He wasn’t a man to take advantage of a drunk woman. Still, the sight of her bare skin caused him to fight the urge to press against her. He’d left her bra and panties on. He’d wondered about the size and shape of her nipples. Did she shave herself bare between her legs? He’d talked himself out of such discoveries, of course. When she woke, she’d be pissed enough he’d taken off her skirt and top, the latter soiled with vomit.
If she’d ever grant him access to more, and only if she allowed such a thing, the encounter would be much sweeter.
He ran through his day’s plans in his mind. He’d planned on taking his charity date sailing. An afternoon of constant, rolling sea and a hangover didn’t mix. He’d take her hiking on St. John. He knew a relatively unused trail that led to a special waterfall. The air would do her good, and perhaps there he’d tell her who he was.
He hoped she wouldn’t be angry. He recalled the fiery look in her eye when she stood and raised her paddle. Outbidding Torie, the aggressive front-desk clerk who’d been after him for a year, took some guts. He had no interest in Torie and her aggression. The only woman who interested him had begun to stir in her bed.
Ava turned and faced him. Her eyes held shock. Perhaps she didn’t remember him at all or that she won him last night?
“It’s Bret. Your love slave.” He tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.
“Oh, God. Tell me we didn’t—”
“You were magnificent.”
She shot up, clutching the sheet to herself like a shield.
“I’m kidding, Ava. We just slept.”
“In my underwear.” Yep, she noticed right away he’d undressed her.
“Would you have preferred naked?”
She snorted and immediately groaned. She pressed her hand to her forehead. “I’m so mortified.”
“Don’t be. You were adorable.”
“Yeah, throwing up is so attractive.”
“Only when you do it.”
She looked up at him and cocked her head in cynical disbelief. “Hey, you’re still in your jeans.”
He eased himself off the bed. “How about some breakfast?”
She hung her head. “I guess. But it’s my treat. You’ve already done enough.” She eased herself off the bed with the sheet around her body and inched her way to the bathroom.
His heart melted a little at her statement. Yes, a very tender soul, indeed.
Perhaps he could be a bartender a little longer. He rather liked how she looked at him—as if he was man and not a meal ticket.
~ ~ ~
Shel and Marguerite didn’t answer their door when she knocked. Still sleeping off their own drinks? After tucking a note under their door, Ava headed downstairs to meet Bret. He’d said he had clothes in the resort. Odd, but her headache kept her from thinking much about it. Her Advil had yet to kick in.
“I didn’t snore, did I?” She asked him in the lobby.
“You were completely silent. An angel.” He kissed her on the forehead.
She felt relieved. She didn’t know why but she didn’t like the thought of looking any more indelicate than she already had in front of this guy. God knows what she told him last night.
She didn’t know if she should believe him about the snoring. Apparently, she snuffled often enough her friends had insisted she get her own room. Since it was already paid for by the time she lost her job, she decided to enjoy having the bathroom to herself. It might be her last opportunity, as she’d likely need a roommate when she returned to D.C. No way would she be able to afford a two bedroom apartment on her own anymore.
He kept his hand on her back the whole way to their
Before she allowed her imagination to run amok, the waitress brought them a huge pot of coffee. A basket of breads and muffins magically appeared. But, when the server placed a full plate of eggs, bacon and hash browns in front of her, she couldn’t contain her suspicions.
“Hey, you called down and ordered,” she said.
“This was supposed to be my treat.”
“I’ll let you pay on one condition.”
“You eat all those eggs. You’re going to need your strength. We have our date today.”
“Where are you taking me? I kind of . . . forgot what your planned date was.” She dropped her chin, embarrassed.
He lifted her gaze back up to him. “I have something special planned for you. A mystery date.”
He then mouthed something to the waitress.
“Don’t you dare change this charge to your account,” she told him. “You’re taking chivalry way too far, ya know.”
“You said you lost your job, which also means you aren’t making that thousand dollar payment.”
“And when did you turn so bossy?”
“I’ve always been bossy.” He forked his eggs.
As they were leaving the restaurant, Bret and Ava ran smack into Shel who was headed inside.
“Ava!” After the girls hugged, Shel grabbed her by both cheeks. “You survived tequila hell. I’m proud of you, girl.”
“Where’s Marguerite? I can sit with you if you’re alone.”
“You will not.” She darted her eyes to Bret. “Marguerite is with the Island God. Turns out the woman who won him couldn’t pay. There was quite the fuss at the bar. Marguerite paid his tab, so to speak. They’ve gone sailing. By the way he looked at her, he’s not unhappy about it, either.”
Bret touched Ava’s arm. “I’m going to make a few calls. Meet you in the lobby in an hour?”
“Wear some good walking shoes.” He winked at her and threw Shel a smile.
After Bret disappeared, Shel pulled her into a tropical plant at the entrance. “So? What happened? He’s gorgeous.”
“I threw up. He held my hair. I think.”
She slowly nodded. “So, there are still a few good men.”
“We have a mystery date today. But I don’t want to abandon you.”
“Are you kidding me? When will you get this chance again? I still can’t believe you spent a thousand dollars on this guy. So you better get every penny’s worthy.” Shel pointed her finger at her.
“It’s just so . . . .”
Yes. No. “So clichéd. Win a guy who is now obligated to show me a good time? It’s one step up from prostitution.”
“Stop over thinking. Now, go.” She turned Ava and pushed her toward the door. “Go have a mystery date.”
As Ava stepped into the elevator to return to her room, she stewed over Shel’s words. Fun. Mystery. She wasn’t sure she knew how to do either anymore. Maybe Drunk Barbie from last night was right. Did she know how to have fun anymore?
Until two weeks ago, she’d lived life precisely, organized, planned out, and scheduled like her events. Maybe she should let herself sink into this experience more—like she did as a kid in her uncle’s pool, diving into the deep end of the pool, smacking the bottom and rising up triumphantly. Perhaps spending a $1,000 for a date was a little like sinking to the bottom of the ocean—the lowest point a woman can go to have a life. She’d rise up again. Didn’t she always?
An hour later Ava stepped out of the resort’s front entry and into the balmy sunshine. Bret leaned against a jeep, the sunlight flashing off the hood as brightly as his smile.
“Ready for anything.” She’d prove those words today.
She was going to let Bret show her a good time—for the hell of it and nothing more. Pure fun.
The boat pitched and rolled in the choppy sea on the short trip to St. John. Perched on a bench on the stern side, inhaling diesel fumes and watching the horizon surge up and down, Ava heartily regretted the breakfast she’d consumed. After landing, she took deep breaths as Bret led her by the elbow to a waiting jeep and lectured her stomach. You will not upchuck in front of him again.
As they drove along a winding road into a lush rainforest setting, she let her head fall back onto the headrest. A shaded green canopy awash with dots of red and white arched overhead. Colorful flashes of birds flittered through the tree tops. Their calls blended with the hum of insects and an occasional call of some tree-dwelling creatures. Fragrant smells of flowers and earth teased her nose, and the warm air ran over her skin. A sense of wellness replaced her nausea.
Bret pulled into a dirt parking area beside a dozen other multi-colored jeeps lined in a row against a tree line. He leaned over and grinned at her. “Don’t worry. I have insect repellant.”
She pressed her back against the seat. “You mean like spiders?” Her mood shifted from relaxed to red alert. She’d grown up on a Pennsylvania farm. Regularly walking into expansive spider webs in her family’s barn back home reinforced a vivid fear of the insect world.
“Just don’t touch any of the trees.” He hopped out and she followed suit, cautiously. She nervously glanced down at her legs in case St. John housed ant colonies.
Bret pulled a backpack from the backseat and slung it over his broad shoulders. He lowered his ray-bans from atop his head to cover his eyes. “Ready?”
Ava looked at the five or six people milling around the parking area. Women donned serious hiking boots, yanked up backpacks and tied bandanas around their heads. Is this a nature hike or an expedition to Mt. Everest?
“I don’t think I’m wearing the right shoes.” She held up a foot. Her white tennies would be ruined by day’s end. Did she care?
“You’ll be fine. The trail is well maintained. If we reach any rough patches, hang on to me.” He flashed her the polished smile that made her insides go squishy. Okay then. You’re having fun, remember?
Bret was true to his word. On the maintained, yet rugged trail, she grasped his arm more than once. She hadn’t walked on anything rougher than city pavement in years. Moist moss growing over the rocks did little to help her keep her balance. Each time she went off kilter, Bret’s hand magically appeared on her forearm, steadying her. He didn’t seem to mind her clumsiness.
Despite the insect repellant Bret had sprayed on her legs and arms, she also ended up slapping away mosquitoes every few minutes. She tried to channel her inner farm girl. When had she grown so soft?
Soon the trail evened out and they came upon a clearing. A tall stone chimney rose in the middle of crumbling walls, ostensibly what was left of a series of buildings.
“Old sugar plantation. Late 1700s. It’s a shame they don’t take better care of these.” He placed his foot on one of the stony ledges and pulled out a bottle of water from the side of his backpack. “Want some?”
She shook off his offer of water and put her finger out to touch the vine-covered stone of a decomposing wall. Ava was used to standing behind a protective barricade, physically removed from immediate proximity of anything historic. A little thrill ran through her that she touched something so old. This was so different from viewing items lying on beds of black velvet behind glass in the Smithsonian Institution in D.C.
“Sugar mill,” he said.
“Oh.” Even growing up on a working farm where animals needed tending and gardens always needed weeding paled in comparison to people slaving away over hot sugar cane vats. Suddenly her last job didn’t look so bad. “I can’t imagine.”
Bret turned slowly to face the opening in the trees. He p
Far in the distance, blue water twinkled under the sunshine. They’d climbed fairly high to warrant such a view. She’d barely noticed the incline.
“I can’t imagine what life had to have been like back then,” she said.
“Nothing like what we do now, huh? We spend all day helping people relax.”
“I know what you’re thinking. That somehow what we do isn’t valuable. Don’t dismiss your worth in the grand scheme of things.”
Ava doubted she even understood his words. The grand scheme of things? When was the last time she’d thought beyond the event du jour? When had she focused on anything beyond choosing the “patriot red” bunting or ensuring the bar stocked enough of the preferred merlot over cabernet sauvignon?
Bret cocked his head at her. “You remember what they say? All work and no play makes—”
“Jack a dull boy.”
“And Jill. Something tells me you don’t subscribe to leisure despite your dedication to making sure others enjoy it. Nothing wrong with having a strong work ethic. Just don’t burn yourself out.”
She shrugged lightly. Work had always been considered a necessary part of her life thanks to her simple upbringing. Even as a child, she had chores beyond what her friends had to do at home.
Bret turned his back and headed toward an opening in the trees. She followed.
They didn’t speak as the trail grew steeper. Forest sounds replaced their conversation, and Bret’s words rattled around in her brain as if inside a gemstone tumbler. Don’t burn yourself out, he’d said. Too late. I’m cooked. Deep fried.
Instead of being sad about her realization, her spirits lifted. It felt good to label her feelings, as if she’d given herself permission to be herself.
She tuned into the steady plop and crunch under their feet, and the bird song and buzzing insects around them. She watched Bret’s broad back flex as he trudged ahead, his t-shirt damp from sweat and humid air. He hadn’t said anything in over fifteen minutes, as if he understood she relished in the wildlife sounds. She hadn’t been in natural surroundings in so long, she’d forgotten the calming effect nature could have.