“What if you don’t like what you see?”

“I don’t know how to explain this to you to make you understand. You’re beautiful, baby. Inside and out. I know this without having to see you with your clothes off.”

“You’re beautiful.” God, I said such dumb shit around him sometimes.

“Not on the inside I’m not.” His eyes grew serious. “I’m not stupid. I know it’s a dark place in there. ”

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” I said.

“What’s that from?” Jake asked.

“Hellen Keller. It makes me think of us.”

He smiled. “Yeah, I like it. It works.” He held me tighter. “You’re under my skin, Bee. I really don’t care what’s under your clothes.” Jake thought for a moment. “Scratch that. I’d be pretty pissed if it turns out you have a dick.”

I burst out laughing.

“No, no dick,” I assured him. He sure knew how to break the tension of a serious conversation.

“So to clarify, you do, in fact, have a vagina?

“Yes, I do.”

“And you do not have a dick?” He was trying not to laugh as he asked.

“Yes, this is the case.”

“You sure? Not even a little dick?”

“Nope. Just standard issue female parts, as far as I know anyway.”

“Then baby, I really don’t see what the problem is here.” He grabbed me by the waist and stood. Picking me up in one quick motion, he lifted me above his shoulders and swung me around in the air. He let me slide back down against his body. When our mouths lined up, he held me in place and pulled me to him for another kiss. With one hand on the back of my head, he opened his mouth to me, deepening it. His tongue danced on mine. I moaned into his mouth as he pulled away and placed me on my feet. “You are going to be the death of me,” he said.

I could have lost myself in those blue eyes. I was pretty sure I already had.

I picked up my camera bag, and we turned toward the parking lot hand-in-hand as a group of people approached us. There were about twelve of them, some familiar. Owen was among them. He led the group with his arm around a small brunette girl wearing itty-bitty white jean shorts and a red bikini top that did nothing to cover her huge breasts. Big Willie Ray was at his side, dragging a cooler on wheels through the sand. Several girls—including Alissa—hung to the back of the crowd.

I tensed when they spotted us.

Alissa was the first to acknowledge us... or the first to acknowledge Jake, at least.

“Hey baby,” she said, eyeing our joined hands skeptically. “Where you been?”

She reached out to put her arms around him, but he stepped back and pulled me in front of him instead. He wrapped both arms around my waist. Alissa looked at him with her jaw open and her eyes wide.

“Home, mostly we’ve just been hanging out at home. Right, baby?” he asked me.

I didn’t get a chance to answer before Alissa interrupted. “She lives with you?”

“Technically, we live together,” he clarified. She looked like she was going to be sick.

Owen left the brunette and strode toward us, stumbling in the loose sand, a beer in his left hand. He had a soft cast on his right hand and wrist. I was glad to see I’d done some lasting damage. Alissa backed away when Owen approached. “You get tired of fucking all the other whores in this town, Dunn? You gotta make a move on my sloppy seconds?” Owen was either looking for a fight or just very, very stupid. I was thinking it was a bit of both.

Jakes clenched his fists. He was ready to fight back, but I’d been fighting my own battles my entire life.

“Nice cast, Owen. Seems like you might be the one who needs a whore now, seeing as how your right hand appears to be out of commission for a while. How’d you hurt yourself, anyway?” I asked.

“Shut up, you fucking freak. Why don’t you take that shirt off and show everyone what you’re hiding under those sleeves? ‘Cause I tell ya, I got a glimpse, and it ain’t fucking pretty under there.” He turned to Jake. “Good luck with that shit, brother. Hope you don’t mind losing your hard on. When she takes that ugly hoodie off, she’s even uglier underneath.”

My face flashed hot. I didn’t think Owen had seen me. When I’d woken up, all my clothes had been intact. He obviously had seen something. All the blood rushed from my face. Jake tightened like a bow being drawn back. His eyes darkened and he reached for the back of his jeans. Before he could make a very huge and very public mistake, I reached over and held my hand over his and the gun.