This was the last place she ever expected to spend Christmas: standing on a dock in the middle of the night in Fort Myers, Florida, staring at her high school sweetheart.
Bailey Kirkpatrick couldn’t believe how quickly fate had turned on her. She’d avoided this man for six years. Until tonight.
The warm night wind blew off San Carlos Bay, churning small waves that rocked the fishing boat under Nick Andreas’s feet. “Bailey.” He held out a hand. “You look like you weren’t expecting to see me.” His white T-shirt glowed in the artificial light from the boathouse, detailing his defined pecs and flat stomach.
She automatically reached out to shake his hand but realized his palm faced up. He wanted to help her onto the fishing boat. She snatched her hand back. “Wait, you’re my ride to North Captiva?”
He let his hand drop then reached up and lifted his baseball cap, scratching his head with the same big hand. That shock of curly, black hair ruffled in the wind before he tamed it by settling his cap on his head. “Who did you think you booked?” He gestured behind him to the row of white bay boats that all bore red letters announcing, Nick’s Charter Service.
“I didn’t know it was you or I wouldn’t...” She’d booked her flight that morning then spent the next five hours trying to arrange a water taxi or a charter boat to the island where she’d grown up. The paradise where she’d lived with her parents until six years ago when she shook off the white sand of her isolated island and headed to Minnesota.
His green eyes stared into hers, their gold-flecked depths stirring memories deep in her soul. “Who the hell else...” He shook his head. “Sorry. Who else would agree to haul you around at midnight on Christmas Eve?” His voice held a heavy dose of irony.
She was being childish. “I’m sorry, Nick. This is just a shock.” Bailey wrapped her arms around her stomach and pulled her sweater closer as she looked up at the million stars flickering in the moonless sky. A shock plus a trip back in time to when this man was her whole life. The ache of loss flared painfully in her heart.
Could she be alone with him, even for a short time, without wanting more from him? It’d taken her years to stop thinking about Nick every hour of every day. Now he only wandered into her thoughts once, maybe twice a day.
“C’mon. Let’s get you home.” He held out that big hand again.
She looked down at her deck shoes and stretchy jeans, worn both for comfort on the flight, and ease of climbing in and out of boats. If she’d known she’d be seeing him, would she have worn something more alluring? Heck yes!
This time, she took his hand and let him help her aboard. The chill that ran from her fingers up her arm and startled her lungs into malfunctioning had nothing to do with the salty breeze and everything to do with his touch.
He held her hand a moment longer than necessary and gazed into her eyes. “Your hair is longer.” He studied her auburn waves. “It looks good.”
As she slid her hand from his, she sucked in a breath. “It’s cold in Rochester. I needed the extra layer.” Her attempt at humor fell flat, and Nick’s brows drew close together.
She turned to find a seat before either one of them picked up the argument they’d never finished when they ended their relationship the summer after high school graduation. On the deck, mountings for swivel seats gleamed, but the chairs weren’t there. That left the bench seat behind the console, right next to where he would stand to drive. She sat, scooting as close to the armrest as possible.
Nick hefted her suitcase onto the boat and set it behind the bench. He patted the dry-storage well across from her. “There’s a blanket in here, if you get cold.”
“Thanks.” She had to look away from the sincerity in his eyes. He’d always been a gentleman. She’d missed that. She’d missed him. There’d been other men in her life over the last six years, but no one captured her heart the way Nick had. Was it just that he was her first love? Or was he the one she’d always love? As a burst of emotion caught in her throat, she glanced away, toward the string of shiny boats that bore his name.
In high school, he’d wanted to be a boat captain while she wanted an education and a chance to join the medical profession. Neither had been willing to budge, and that dual-stubbornness lead to the end of their future together. “You’ve done well.” She gestured toward his boats.
“I did.” He made his way around the deck as he tested the standard list of pre-check items, but didn’t elaborate. “Are you surprising your folks?” His deep voice came from somewhere behind her.
“Uh, yes.” How did he know?
His footsteps moved to her left. “I saw them on Pine Island last week and they said you weren’t coming for Christmas.”
It was a very small community, and she was sure he ran into her parents a lot. Maybe too much, from the way they mentioned him far too often. They’d loved him nearly as much as she had. That clutch of emotion settled behind her heart in a wistful ache.
He laughed quietly. “Well, that, and the fact that you booked a charter boat instead of having them pick you up.” Something banged. “I might not be a college grad, but I figured it out on my own.”
She looked at him. Was he being sarcastic? Six years ago, she’d been thrilled to receive an invitation to study at one of the world’s most prestigious medical facilities. Could he still be angry after all these years? She would ignore his remark. It was Christmas Eve, after all, and she was home. A burst of excitement shimmered through her, curling her lips into a smile.
“The hospital mistakenly double-booked staff for the holiday, and I got the lucky call this morning.” Her gaze followed Nick as he walked to the front of the boat.
He flipped on lights. “They’ll be excited to see you.” Nick bent, which gave her a belly-warming view of his narrow hips and nicely shaped butt. He’d filled out over the years. Muscular thighs and wide shoulders. She stared at his arms as his muscles flexed. She’d loved his thin, tight body when they were young lovers. Now he’d be...
Nick glanced at her as if he sensed the direction of her thoughts.
Stop back tomorrow for Chapter Two
Laura~Smart Women ~Sexy Men ~Seductive Romance