Bailey shrugged. “It’s a warm night. I’d like to sit on the beach for a while.”
Nick throttled back and they drifted for a minute as he stared out into the Gulf of Mexico. “Yeah. Okay.” He pushed the throttle and turned the boat to run along the thick mangrove trees that lined the shore. On the west side of the island, he turned on his searchlight and aimed it at the trees.
“There it is!” She pointed to the glow strip of plastic wrapped around a thin limb. “How could that still be there?” Surely after six years, it would have blown away or disintegrated. She turned to Nick.
His lips were pressed tightly together. He was keeping something from her. He shrugged as he turned into the opening between two land points covered in tall vegetation. Pulling the boat into the narrow opening, they both had to duck mangrove branches. They reached the tiny bay and Nick steered toward the white sand of the beach that surprisingly hadn’t overgrown with vegetation.
Could he have come back here? Kept the beach cleared? “Wait, did you—“
“Hold on.” He turned the boat sharply and jumped out, splashing into the salty water to tie up the boat in the mangrove roots. “Grab the blanket.”
She pulled it out of its dry cubby, tucked it under her arm, and sat on the bow, her legs hanging over the edge.
He reached up just as he’d done hundreds of times before. She slid down into his arms and let him carry her to the sand. He jiggled her a couple times as he walked. “You’ve gained weight.”
She laughed. He’d said that to her every time he’d carried her. “Actually, I’ve lost about fifteen pounds.” A research job that left her too busy to eat and had her standing for ten hours a day had taken its toll.
He set her down and cupped her cheek. “Are you happy there, Bailey?” His eyes held true concern.
Was she happy? She swallowed the constriction that threatened tears. “I’m doing what I wanted to do since I was a child. It’s rewarding.”
His gaze locked with hers. “Your parents tell me there are hospitals in Florida that do the same thing you’re doing.”
She stepped back. This was all too sudden, too unexpected. The blanket fell to the sand.
Nick picked it up and shook it, then laid it flat on the place they’d once declared their perfect piece of real estate. After staring at the spot for a minute, he shoved his hands in his back pockets and walked to the edge of the beach. It was what he did when he was thinking, and there was no rushing him through the process.
Bailey slid her feet out of her shoes and dug her toes into the fine sand. It tickled between her toes and massaged her tired arches. She tipped her head back, looking for her favorite constellations.
“I came here.” His voice reached her even though he stared out over the water.
“I came and cleared the beach.” He looked over his shoulder at her. “I kept our spot the same, Bailey.”
Her breath stalled and heat churned from her heart out through her bloodstream. What was he saying?
Turning back toward the water, his shoulders slumped. “I waited for you.”
Moisture flooded her eyes as air pumped in and out of her lungs. “What do you mean?”
“I dated.” He shrugged one shoulder. “Even brought a couple girls here.” He pulled his hands from his pocket, fisted them, and looked up at the sky. “They weren’t you. No one came close.”
Moisture trickled down her cheeks. To have a man love you that much, for that long, to wait for you... “I dated too, Nick.” He had to know her history, that she’d been with other men, just as he’d been with other women. “No one serious, but I did try to replace you.” The words were out before she could think through what she wanted him to glean from them.
She walked toward him. She would let her heart speak for her, and push aside all reservations, worriesm and logistics. She would permit herself to say what she should have said six years ago. She stopped a yard behind him. “I was wrong to let you go.” He’d been her whole universe. “I should have tried to make it work.”
His head dropped forward. “I couldn’t keep you here. I had nothing to offer.”
Her heart thudded. He’d grown so much in the years they were apart. He never would have admitted that six years ago. He had his life together now, and she had achieved her goal. Maybe this was their time to make their future.
She took those last three steps, slid her hands over his ribs and across his stomach and pulled herself against his back to say the words she might not be able to say to his face. “I love you, Nick. I haven’t stopped loving you all these years.”
Had she said the wrong thing? Had she misunderstood what he was trying to tell her?
In a heartbeat, he turned in her arms and pulled her tight against him. His hands slid up her back to lace into her hair. He held her still, staring intently into her eyes. “Do you mean that, Bailey? Really mean those words?”
“Yes, Nick, I do.” Relief poured through her. It erased all regret and reserve. “I love you, and I want to try again. I want to do everything I can to make this work.” Even if it meant she would have to leave her job and live with her parents until she could find another.
“We’ve changed, you know.” He picked her up in his arms and carried her to the blanket. “It might take some time to get to know each other again.” He laid her on the blanket and stretched out next to her, his arm across her body posessively.
She pressed her fingertip to his lips. “This is all we need right now, Nick.” She tugged off his hat and grabbed his hair the way she’d done a thousand times before. Pulling him closer, she kissed him. “Just us. Right here.” The last place she’d ever expected to spend Christmas.
Thank you! I hope you enjoyed the story.
Laura~Smart Women ~Sexy Men ~Seductive Romance