As warmth slid up Bailey’s neck, she flicked her gaze to her watch. Quarter to eleven. She needed to rush him a little. “I’m hoping to be on their boat before they head over to the big island for midnight Mass.
Nick hitched a thumb over his shoulder. “They’re long gone by now, bubbles.”
She blinked at his use of her nickname. The one he’d given her. Then the rest of his words sunk in. “Gone?” She checked her watch again. “It’s ten forty-five. They don’t leave until—”
He sauntered toward her as he pulled on a flannel jacket. “In Minnesota, yes. Here in Florida, it’s an hour later.”
Letting out a groan, she squeezed her eyes shut. “The plane took off late, and I forgot to turn my watch ahead.”
“I can take you right to Pine Island. You could get a ride to the church, or sit in your folks’ boat until they come back there.”
The logistics of trying to find a ride from the dock to the church at this hour, arriving late at the service when every seat would be taken, and searching for her parents would be a nightmare. Worse yet, she’d probably scare the eggnog out of them if she hid in their boat.
“No, you can take me home.” Her stomach rumbled. She needed to eat something, too.
Nick’s lips curved into a half-smile as he reached into his shirt pocket. “Still forgetting to eat, bubbles?” He pulled out a candy bar. Her favorite.
Her stomach “bubbled” again. She smiled as she accepted the treat. “Thank you. I’ve been on the phone or running for a plane for the last ten hours.” She peeled back the wrapper, and bit into the milk chocolate, caramel, and nuts. Her stomach rumbled again.
“Let’s go to Cabbage Key.” He straightened and looked surprised that he’d suggested it.
Her eyes opened wide and she felt the blood drain from her face. When they were dating as teens, they’d head to the island on his sailboat at least once a week. Shelling, swimming, or just laying on the tiny, seculuded piece of beach they’d found, and talking. It’s where he first told her he loved her.
She stared into his beautiful eyes. It’s where she told him she was leaving for Minnesota to accept the scholarship she’d won, despite her parents’ offer to pay her way through college at U of Miami, Coral Gables. Did he want to go to their spot on the island to pick up their fight right where they’d left off?
He moved a step closer to her. “There’s a party. At the restaurant.” He pointed to her stomach. “We can get you something to eat.”
Every muscle in her body had tensed, and she slowly relaxed them. No, he didn’t want to rehash those last few months before she moved north, thank heavens. But it still seemed like a strange suggestion.
His head dropped, he stepped off the boat, and slid the bowline off the post. “Stupid idea.” He jumped back on the boat, and started the motor.
The way they’d fight, back then, was crazy. They’d yell and she’d cry and he’d comfort her, but wouldn’t change his mind about wanting her to stay in Florida. They wouldn’t speak for weeks, then they’d fight some more until she’d finally left early for Minnesota, without even saying goodbye.
She wanted time with him. A quiet spot to apologize and make things okay again between them. “No. It’s a great idea.” She shouted to be heard above the rumble of the motor.
His eyes narrowed and his mouth curved into a frown. “You sure?”
She nodded. “I’m sure.” She took another bite of her candy bar. “I’ll need to get a soda to wash this down.” She grinned, hoping to alleviate the discomfort that sat thick and stagnant between them.
He smiled as he walked to the back of the boat, released the line, then pulled a plastic bottle from the ice in one of the storage bins and twisted off the cap. “I figured you still drank this stuff.”
She took the bottle of diet cherry cola from him. He remembered. The candy bar, the soda brand she loved. “I can’t get it up north, so this is a treat.” She took a sip. It brought her back to hot summer days skimming Nick’s sailboat across the calm expanse of the Gulf.
“Another reason you shouldn’t have...” He clamped his jaw and stood next to her then pushed the throttle forward. They eased from the slip, crawled no-wake through the marina, then hit full speed once they were out in the bay.
They flew by homes decorated with holiday lights, pine trees and palm trees ringed with strands of blinking red and green, and a few sailboats edged with lights. The beauty of it all was lost as his words echoed in her head. “Another reason you shouldn’t have...” He still carried anger from her leaving him.
Twisting the cap back onto the bottle, she stood next to him, hanging on to the grip on the console.
He glanced at her and she smiled. Between the roar of the motor, the slapping of the waves on the bow, and the whistle of the wind, this wasn’t the time to try to talk.
Within minutes, they’d gone past Sanibel Island and headed into Pine Island Sound. To her left, North Captiva—home—blinked the few lights of the little golf-cart community. She’d had to go to Pine Island to learn to drive a real car.
Nick watched the water and his guidance systems, and in minutes, the festive lights of the Cabbage Key restaurant blinked ahead of them. He slowed as he approached the dock. The sound of music and partiers carried across the water.
She wanted to talk to Nick, and a holiday party didn’t seem like a good place to do it. “Let’s go to our spot.”
His head jerked and his eyes narrowed. “What? Why?”
Stop back tomorrow for the final chapter.
Laura~Smart Women ~Sexy Men ~Seductive Romance