Undertow: A compilation of short beach stories, page 7
Ava was not taking the innuendo bait. Bret merely popped open a beer and leaned back in his chair.
“A house, Shel? Really? I’ve known you to be decisive but never impulsive.”
“Everyone needs a vacation home. Mine will be here.”
“You still sure about this? I mean we spent a whopping thirty minutes in the house yesterday.” Marguerite asked.
“Not all impulse purchases are wrong.” Shel winked at Ava. “Sometimes it’s the smartest thing you can do. Go with your gut. Feels good after all the endless analysis paralysis we do in Washington. Right Ava?”
Ava didn’t answer, but rubbed the rope pattern on her wrist so Shel could see.
Bret pulled her up. “Come on. It’s too hot for the fish to bite. Perfect time.”
“No, Ava. Kidding. Come on.” Ava let herself be tugged toward the water.
By the time she’d secured her fins and mask over her face, the rest of their crew had already dove into the water, pairing off. Jared with Marguerite, and Shel with Adam, kicked and splashed, faces pointing downward in the water.
“I haven’t spent much time in the water,” Ava said through her mask, knowing she sounded like a duck. ”I grew up land locked. Farm girl and all.”
“Time to rectify that. Just float with me.” He slipped a BCV vest over her head.
After awkwardly wading into the water backward as Bret instructed, she found the salt water quite supportive. In combination with the buoyancy vest, she hung effortlessly, perfectly suspended in the water. For a second last night’s activities flashed in her mind. She could get used to feeling suspended—often.
Bret tightly clasped her hand in his and pulled her across the water. He pointed to the coral underneath them, the landscape resembling an underwater Japanese rock garden. A small sea turtle dove up from the bottom, and she startled. Bret’s grip tightened on her hand. By the time the round turtle floated to the surface for a gulp of air and then dove back down again, her heartbeat had calmed. Schools of silvery fish flashed by. Starfish clung to rocks while regal seahorses clung to the tall reedy grass with their tails. Queen angel fish and large snappers with bright yellow stripes darted around mounds of corral. Bret pointed at a parrot fish under the corral, their loud crunching heard even underwater. A whole world she’d never known existed lived twenty feet below her floating body.
When they moved to a sandy area, a pair of stingrays skated along the bottom, ruffling the sand with their wings. Ava drew closer to Bret’s body. She stopped kicking her legs and floated. Soft, rising waves lifted and dropped their bodies in a hypnotic rhythm. She grew mesmerized by the gentle sway of the sea fans as they tilted back and forth in the water’s current. Yes, she could get used to this life. A place where time stopped.
In her peripheral vision she caught a small grey creature about two feet long swimming underneath. It turned and bared a grin full of teeth. “Holy hell, a shark!” she screamed into her snorkel. Sea water leaked past her lips and she choked.
Ava jerked her hand from Bret’s. Limbs flailing, coughing on inhaled water, she frantically looked for shore. “Shark! Shark!”
Bret grasped her waist and tugged her mask down her neck.
“Calm down, Ava!” he shouted.
Still coughing, she sputtered. “I saw a sh-shark. I’m not about to be its lunch.” She began to swim toward shore with purpose. Bret grasped her hand, and she let him. He was a stronger swimmer.
She abandoned her snorkeling gear on the beach, and stood, swaying a little. It felt good to stand upright on sandy land. Their guide stood a few feet away at the shoreline and slapped fins together, loosening clumps of wet sand from them.
“Hey Adam, did you see that? A baby nurse shark,” Bret called to the guide.
“Yes, sir. Really rare. Your ladies must be good luck. We don’t see them often,” he answered.
“But what if it had come after us?” Ava was horrified at how happy they seemed. The two men laughed, and she flushed. “Why are you laughing? It was a shark.”
“Harmless, baby. It’s strictly a bottom scavenger. A nurse shark’s mouth is on the underside of its head. You would have to chase it down, catch it and insert your hand into its mouth to be bitten.” Bret drew her into a wet, squishy hug. “You scared the shark more than it scared you.”
Ava headed to their umbrella oasis. Was there anything stronger than water in that ice vat? After settling in her chair with a beer, the rest of their crowd started to emerge from the low curling waves. Bret took the chair next to her. He hadn’t said a word since she embarrassed herself.
Ava pouted and handed him her beer. “I told you I don’t know much about the ocean.”
“I can change that, ya know.” Bret took a large swig and handed it back to her. “You need this more than me.” He stood to help Shel who struggled with her mask until it hopelessly tangled in her hair.
“Did you see the baby nurse shark, Shel?” he asked.
“Yeah, fantastic. You don’t see those in the national mall’s reflecting pool.”
“There, all free. I’m going to help Adam get lunch.” Bret nodded to Adam who’d begun to stack fins and snorkels in a wheelbarrow.
“God, I love the ocean.” Shel dropped into Bret’s abandoned seat. “That’s why I plan on visiting here at least four times a year. Regain my perspective.”
“I’m sure Bret will be happy to provide entertainment.” Ava watched Bret’s arms flex as he pushed the wheelbarrow through the thick sand toward a second waiting van. She sighed. “I don’t know when I’ll get to come back. New jobs aren’t keen on new hires taking a lot of vacation.” Plus, who said Bret would want to see her, if she did return. She clearly didn’t fit in here, at all.
“Oh, you’re not leaving St. Thomas.”
Ava shook her head. “You’re dreaming, Shel.”
“That man’s not letting you go.”
“Oh, yes, he will. He’s Bret Wright. A girl in every resort?”
“He’s not seeking a girl. He wants you.”
“I’m not cut out for island life as I demonstrated rather spectacularly.” Ava took another gulp of her beer.
“What are you talking about?” Shel squinted at Ava.
Ava sighed and related her humiliation. When she wrapped up her tale of mortification, Shel blinked at her in silence—for two seconds, then bent double with laughter. Ava swatted at her ineffectively. “You don’t have to laugh quite that hard.”
“Ah, girl . . . there are as many dangers in D.C. Here the sharks are more clearly labeled.”
“I’m never living this one down, am I?”
“No chance. But you said Bret got you out of the water pretty quickly. I like him. He’s got your back. You should marry him.”
Ava spit out her beer. “The sun has fried your brain, Shel.”
“Not as much as that man has gotten to you. Hey Bret,” Shel called toward him. “For the record, I approve. You get the girlfriend seal of approval.”
Bret gave her a thumbs up and heaved the wheelbarrow up to the pavement.
“Oh, yeah, that’ll make him whip out an engagement ring.”
“You underestimate my power.”
Ava laughed and tried to dislodge the sad feelings lingering on the edges of her consciousness. This last episode with the nurse shark was the perfect illustration of how out of place she was here. She had to go home at some point, right? She appreciated Bret’s chivalrous attempt at making her feel desired, given how she’d spilled her messy past to him. She relished his attempts to make her feel special. She now understood the Wright brothers’ reputations, and why people would want to work with them. Or do anything with them. Bret had given her a gift she’d treasure forever—a moment in time when she was exceptional to someone.
But her week in the Caribbean with Bret was over tomorrow. Tears welled in her eyes. Well, great. Have a fantasy weekend to return home a pessimistic, whiny, pathetic . . .
Bret held his face under a stream of water. The warm shower felt good, sluicing off the salt and sand from the day. Ava’s nude body wrapped around him felt better. Her arms circled his waist, and her breasts rubbed against his torso driving him crazy.
He’d insisted they clean up together in his bathroom instead of going to her room. In fact, after a little shower action, he’d settle her into his suite for good.
His heart flipped today, seeing her shocked face terrified over a harmless sea creature. That she had a one-dimensional life was apparent. Work, sleep, make sure everyone around her had what they required. He was familiar with the pattern. Well, no more. He’d offer her something far better than an endless parade of events planned for other people to enjoy. What could Washington offer that he couldn’t?
“I’m going to enjoy washing you every morning, Ava.” Bret skimmed his hands along her shoulders and back.
Ava looked up. “Bret, you’re great at giving a girl a good time. But, really, like I told you the first night we met, you don’t have to—”
“Do what?” He drew her tighter to his raging hard-on. “This?”
He drew her hands to his cock. Her fingers wrapped around his length and she licked her lips. At least she acted like she wanted him. He couldn’t recall a time when he cared more about whether a woman wanted him, instead of the other way around.
She dropped her gaze. “I don’t want our last night and day together to include promises neither of us can fulfill,” she whispered.
Was that regret in her tone? Good.
“I never make promises I can’t fulfill,” he said. Of course, she didn’t know that about him . . . yet. He almost came undone when she cupped his balls. “This doesn’t have to be our last day and night together,” he managed to choke out.
She chortled. “You’re a master at fantasy, ya know?”
“I’d like to be your master of more than that, Ava.” He pinned her against the tile wall and withdrew her hands from his aching cock. He hilted himself between her legs in one long glide. “No more talking.”
She blew out a long breath. Her face went slack. Her legs clutched his waist. God, how he loved those legs. If they’d been alone today at the beach, he’d have flung her on her back under the cabanna and stripped her of that scrap of yellow fabric she called a bikini. He would have licked up the inside of her thighs until his mouth reached her sweet pussy and made her beg for release, made her promise never to leave. He couldn’t fathom not starting every morning thrusting into her like this . . . and this . . . and this again . . .
Intent upon driving out any thought of her saying no to his still-unspoken proposal, he slammed into her over and over. Little cries built in her throat until she stifled herself by burying her face into his neck. He’d allow her that much, this time. He’d teach her to let go. God knows what else she’d kept under wraps for too long. His mind’s eye pictured her bound in so many ways, positions that would make it impossible for her to hide her pleasure like she tried to do now.
He tipped her chin up. “Look at me, Ava.” He was so close, but wouldn’t release until he felt that sweet clench of her inner muscles—her surrender to him.
Her lips parted and she took in several gulps of air. Her long moan signaled she finally gave into her orgasm. The sound bounced off the tile walls—the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard.
Bret pushed into her one last time, reaching her furthest point. When she pulled him closer with her strong legs, emotion choked his throat. Could he be in love with this woman already? He came hard at the thought.
He reluctantly released her legs so she could stand on her own. She’d have bruises for days where his fingers dug into her ass. Good.
As she dried her hair over the sink, Bret shaved the five o’clock shadow from his jawline. He enjoyed watching the sensual pull of the fabric over her moist body as she stepped into her clothes. Hell, he’d enjoy watching her do anything.
“I need to go pack,” she said loudly over the buzz of his shaver.
He shut it off. “I’ll send one of my staff to bring your things here.” He placed a kiss on her forehead. “You can even have your own drawer.”
“Won’t need one. Our plane leaves tomorrow.”
“You mean Shel and Marguerite’s plane. There’s no reason for you to be on it.” He pulled her closer and took both of her wrists. “I have an idea. Work here, on St. Thomas.”
“I am not working for you. Been there. Done that. Got the broken heart as a souvenir.”
“So, then don’t. Well find you something else.” His hands cupped her behind and pulled her closer until the towel around his waist threatened to wet her dry clothes.
She pushed away. “Nice try, handsome. You can visit me in Washington.”
“I hate that town.”
“So do I,” she sighed.
“Nobody hates the Virgin Islands.”
She batted away his wandering hands. “I need to go. I haven’t eaten. I need to pack. Get up at five, at least—”
He grabbed her from behind before she could get out of the bathroom door. “Stop, Ava. You’re not listening to me. You’ve clicked back into planning mode.”
“Well, some of us have to.”
“What does that mean?” His back stiffened.
“Look, you’re used to having everything handed to you—”
“I mean, staff running around, taking care of things for you, but I have to take care of myself. My reality is different from yours.” She stepped backward. “I’m sorry Bret. You’ve been wonderful. Please don’t feel you need to do this.”
“And what am I doing?”
“Trying to make me feel good. Wanted.” She looked down at her hands. “This week has been wonderful . . . like something out of a movie. Thank you for that, but I have to go home . . . I have unfinished business—”
“Hell, no.” At least she looked shocked, which made him feel better. The prick didn’t deserve her.
“Then why run back?”
“I’m not running. I need to find a job. I can’t support myself watching fish and drinking beer on a Caribbean beach. I have to go home.”
“You’re like a little kid you know that? Why? Why? Why? Because I need to be an adult and take care of myself. That’s why!”
“There’s nothing about me that’s a little kid.” Anger flickered. Bret was keenly aware of how many people “yes-ed” him every day and he hated it, but right now hearing “no” was more annoying, especially when he knew he was right. Ava didn’t have a life to go back to in Washington. He wanted to offer her something better. If she’d only stop and listen. . . .
“I didn’t mean that. Look, you clearly live a dream life, a fantasy, and I live—”
“No one ever says no to you, do they?”
“I’m not letting you go back.” Not until he at least had a chance to explain his proposal.
“Excuse me? Not letting me?” She ducked under his arm he’d used to block her from exiting the bathroom.
“Ava, where the hell are you going?” The loud slam of the front door answered him.
~ ~ ~
Packing her suitcase took less than twenty minutes. The distraction wasn’t long enough. Ava had eight more hours before they headed to the airport. What else was going to keep her from thinking about Bret, and their fight? Did we really leave on such bad terms?
She left a message for Shel and Marguerite. Meet you in the lobby at 6 a.m. Ever the logistics planner, Ava had booked a shuttle to the airport before they even arrived in St. Thomas. Now she was glad. She didn’t think she’d have the strength to make the call in her current condition.
She hung her simple wrap dress on the door behind the bathroom. Settled her ballerina flats in t
Seven hours and forty-seven minutes left. She sat on the edge of the bed and stared at her wrists, now free of marks or any reminder she’d had a weekend like no other. And never will again. Only one Bret Wright existed in the world. After him, she’d be disappointed by everyone and everything in comparison.
She stood up and went to the door. No way was she going to let her time with Bret end on this sour note. She’d apologize, thank him, maybe even beg him to visit her in Washington. They’d have a drink. She’d go back to his hotel room . . . That last part? Yeah, right. Ava pulled open the door and ran smack into Bret’s chest. “What are you doing?”
He grasped her immediately and lifted her face with both his hands so she could stare directly into his fiery eyes. His intensity pushed her backward into the room. “If you’d only get to know me, you’d learn fantasy doesn’t interest me.”
“Oh?” She wasn’t at all scared. Instead, she felt relieved and more than a little turned on.
“Also, you’re right. People don’t tell me no. You may be the first. Now, tell me Ava Hollins, we pledged truth. What interests you? What will make you say yes and stay?” The door clicked shut behind him as he walked her backward. He wasn’t waiting for an answer.
When the backs of her legs hit the bed, she tumbled backward. He peered down at her.
“I want you to stay, but only if you want to. If you don’t want to, then okay. It’s your choice. If you don’t want me—”
“I didn’t say I didn’t want you.”
“Then, what do you want?”
A choked sob broke from her chest. “I-I don’t know. I can’t imagine . . .”
“I know. But don’t worry. I have enough imagination for the two of us.” He leaned down until he caged her body underneath his. “Remember what I said about men?”
“Don’t chase them.”
“You have that part down now.” He smiled. “But, what else did I say?”