My shirt is frozen and stuck to my body. When I breathe it feels like I’m trying to suck in snow cones, but I gasp because Sean takes my breath away. He always has. My eyes drift to his mouth, to those perfect lips and that beautiful smile. For a second, it feels real. I’m not his hooker. I’m not his friend. I’m not his lover, but I want to be. I want to be anything and everything, so I lean in before he stops smiling and press my mouth to his. The heat, the warmth of his lips, stands in strong contrast to the cold water. When I feel his smile fade, I pull back and watch his eyes. I don’t know what I’m looking for, but it feels like I should find it there.

However, his gaze is lower. At first I think he’s looking at my chest. He could get a puncture wound, my n**ples are so hard. Why does it feel like I crossed a line? Disappointment floods through me until I realize he’s looking at the ring around my neck. It’s under my shirt, plastered to my chest. Another wave washes over us, but Sean manages to pull the ring out before the water rushes away.

“You’re still wearing it?” He sounds shocked and blinks a few times like the piece of jewelry will disappear if he looks away.

I shrug, like it doesn’t mean anything. “Just around you.”

“You’re always around me.” Sean looks up slowly, his face expressionless.

“Then, I’ll wear it for a while,” I laugh uneasily and press my finger to his nose like he’s a little kid. “Can’t have you forgetting what you missed out on.”

“No, we wouldn’t want that.” His eyes shift down and he looks side to side, scanning the beach. I don’t know what he means, if he’s teasing me or if he’s being serious.

Either way, I don’t want to ruin whatever just happened. After everything that’s gone down, I needed this so badly and Sean seemed to know. I push off his lap and hold out my hand for him. My clothes stick to my body and I shiver as the wind hits me. It leaves very little to the imagination when clothing looks like skin.

Sean takes my hand and manages to get up before the next wave crashes. He pulls me against him and whispers in my ear, “We should do something to get warm.”

I press my lips together, still smiling so hard that my face hurts. “Ah, my call girl services don’t start until seven.”

“No, my dear,” Sean leans in and whispers in my ear. “I’m afraid you misunderstood. I’ll be servicing you.”

Giggling, I snap my fingers. “Sweatpants and hot cocoa?” He nods and rubs his hands up my back, pulling me against him. “Hot soup and fresh bread? Oooh! Lobster Soup?” I nearly have an orgasm thinking about it. I’m so cold and the thought alone of anything that warm is stimulating me in all the right ways. Mmmm. Soup.

Sean gives me a crooked smirk, revealing that dimple again. “Anything you want. Anything at all.” He winks and I chortle.

“I might want more than soup.” Maybe. Taking off my clothes sounds like suckage at the moment, but I think being nak*d must be better. I’m an Avery-sicle complete with chattering teeth.

Sean laughs and holds me tight. He lifts my feet off the ground, spinning me in a circle. When he puts me down, he presses his forehead to mine and says, “I was hoping you’d say that.”

CHAPTER 11

Sean buys a truck load of JONES BEACH crap from the vendor since neither of us brought a change of clothes, and soon we’re walking down the new boardwalk, hand in hand.

“Where are we going? I was promised soup, Ferro. Don’t screw with me. I’m still frozen.”

Sean makes a noise in the back of his throat that sounds an awful lot like humming before he glances over at me. “In good time, short one.”

“Short one? Are you Yoda now? Sensei? Or what? Besides, I prefer vertically challenged…and a cup of soup.” I stomp my flip flops and fold my arms over my chest.

Sean stops and smiles at me, snaking his fingers under the hem of my huge ass sweatshirt as he looks down at me. “You are such a baby when you’re hungry.”

My bottom lip juts out and I’m whining, “I am not,” before I can stop myself. A million excuses fill my head, but I realize that I don’t need to say any of them. Sean’s not complaining. In fact, he seems to like it.

Huh, turns out my mom was wrong. Whining isn’t unattractive. I wish she was here to have that discussion. My thoughts drift a little more before I look up at him again. It’s unreal how many different thoughts can fly through my mind at once. I’m not a logical person. My mind is a vortex, always swirling like a twister, ripping apart everything I’m seeing and hearing and trying to make sense of it. Like the man standing in front of me. This is a softer version of Sean. I’ve seen this edition a few times and I know he won’t stay like this for long. It’s something about this place, or that he’s intentionally unguarded right now. Or maybe it’s because he got wet and I fed him after midnight. I have no idea what made him act like this today, but I wish I saw more of this side of him. Sean seems to keep it locked away, like this side of his personality doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s what he wants people to think, because this part of him is clearly vulnerable. Even I can see that.

He slips his hand under my shirt and says, “What if I told you that I had dinner all arranged, but I forgot the soup?”

The corners of my mouth tip down as I consider his statement. “No soup?”

“I seriously doubt it. As it is, I gave the chef a coronary telling him to make dinner so fast. I almost suggested hamburgers, but I think he would have fired me.” Sean kisses my cheek and then takes my hand, pulling me toward one of the closed buildings. I assume that we’ll walk under the portico and out to the parking lot on the other side, but he stops and pulls the door open for me.

“Are we looting a state park gift shop?” I joke, and look over my shoulder at him. “Ooh! Dibs on the park passes! I’m going to cover myself in Empire Passport stickers!” There’s a huge smile on my face. I probably look like a deranged circus clown.

“What are you talking about?”

“The parking pass thingie that sticks on the car window so you get into the park for free. You don’t get out much, do you?”

Sean holds the door as I stand there, looking up at him. “I seriously wonder about you. It’s like there’s an old lady and a toddler fighting for control of your brain.”

I flick his nose and laugh. “The old lady won tonight, sonny. She’s a little crotchety since she’s learned that she’s not getting any soup!”

Smiling, he says, “Go inside, lunatic.”

“Make me, Mr. Ferro.” I say it lightly, teasingly. I don’t think Sean will do anything. He never does, so when he leans in close, his face a breath from mine, and makes a purring sound in the back of his throat, my jaw drops. As soon as he stops, I want to hear it again. I can’t remember why we’re standing in a doorway or what we were talking about. That sound is rarer than that dimple, which has been begging to be licked all day. Do you know how hard it is NOT to lick Sean Ferro? Add that dimple and I’m lost. But the deep, husky sound that came from Sean, from my Sean—oh my God—kill me now. I could die happy.

“Aroused again, Miss Stanz?”

Pressing my lips together, I stop gaping and punch his side. “Jerk.”

He laughs. “Translation: hells yeah.” I look over my shoulder as we walk over the threshold, and wonder if I know him at all. Since I keep wondering that, I assume that I don’t. When you know a person, they stop surprising you, don’t they? If he does anything else I might die of shock. Ooops. Spoke too soon.

My feet suddenly stop as my mouth falls open. “What did you do?” The little shop has been cleared out so that there’s only a single dining table, complete with drippy candles, and two chairs. White twinkle lights surround the room, hidden in pale flowy fabric that mimics the waves. The sound and scent of the ocean fills my head, but the fireplace next to the table warms the room. The scents of fall, sea water, and crackling wood mix together.

“I thought you might need a nice night.” Sean sounds uncertain, like he isn’t sure if I like it.

Turning slowly, I look up at him. “You did this for me?” He nods. “When?” Other than the altercation with Naked Guy, Sean has been with me all day. I can’t imagine when he had time to arrange it.

Looking at me through those thick, dark lashes, he says, “When we first got here. You ran into the ladies room, and I called my mother’s chef and had him come out along with a few of her designers to make the room a little better. I just had to keep you from freezing to death before now. I didn’t plan on going for a swim.”

“You should have taken off your boots.” I grin at him.

Sean steps toward me, his eyes darkening, and that sexy smile on his lips. He brushes the back of his hand along my cheek before whispering in my ear. “I’m glad I didn’t.” I shiver, but it has nothing to do with being cold.

CHAPTER 12

Course after course is brought out to the table on silver trays. Beautiful Ferro china plates that cost more than my car are placed in front of me with little portions of food. I stare at my main course without moving to pick up a fork. My head is tilted to the side slightly as I look at my plate.

“What’s wrong?” Sean ask. “I thought you liked chicken cordon bleu, and those little carrots.”

My bottom lip quivers and I can see the horror spreading across Sean’s face like spilled paint. I rush to wipe away the look before I ruin all his hard work. I would have never thought he’d do something like this for me, ever. Reaching across the table, I take his hand and pat it. “I do. I mean, I haven’t had a meal like this since my parents died. The only time I eat chicken cordon bleu is at Wendy’s. And I do love little carrots. This is beyond words, Sean.”

My stomach sinks as my old life clashes with the new one. This man is trying so hard to make me smile, but he conjured ghosts with his gift. When I look up at him, I try my best to blind him with a bright smile, but he sees the sadness in my eyes. I’m such a train wreck. Sniffling, I smile and ask, “Who cries over cute little carrots?” My vision blurs as my eyes brim with tears.

Without a word, Sean stands, walks over to my seat, and holds out his hand. The chef comes out, looking rather horrified, and covers the plates with silvery domes before disappearing into the back room again. Seeing Sean’s hard body in a soft sweat suit is so strange. My eyes travel over him once more before I take his hand and apologize.

Sean pulls me into his arms and holds me for a moment. Then music starts playing. It’s a slow song, something that I haven’t heard in a long time. Sean takes my hand as he steps back and pulls me with him. His other hand drops to my waist. Looking down at me, he slides his flip flopped feet across the floor and I can’t help but smile. “You can dance?”

“And you can follow. Who knew?” he teases, as he grips my hand loosely and leads me under his arm so I do a slow spin before coming back to him.

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