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Fourteen Years Ago
If everything went as planned, it would be her last night as a virgin.
It was now or never for Lilly. She was eighteen years old, and either had to find the nerve to say what was in her heart or wonder what if for the rest of her life. What if. That was something she never wanted to experience. Life should be lived, not regretted.
Slipping through the garden on the Miller estate in the pitch dark was unsettling—even though she’d done it a hundred times before. The property wasn’t the largest in Compass Cove, but it was still possible to get lost in the acres of woods. The weather was typical for late summer, warm and humid, and sweat beaded on her forehead. In the distance, she could see lightning illuminate the huge thunderheads that signaled a storm wasn’t far off.
Before she knew it, Lilly stood at the top of the wooden steps that led to the beach. There were fifty-two steps—just fifty-two steps separated her from who she was, and who she would become. Glancing down, there was an eerie glow on the sand, and while she couldn’t really see the water, she could hear the waves lapping against the shore. To her left was the grey shingled boathouse.
The structure was more than its name implied. Yes, it held boat equipment, beach chairs, and a stash of towels, but half of the house was more luxury cabana, with a kitchen, living area, and a fully stocked bar. She, Natalie, and Jordan had practically lived in the space this summer as they plotted their great escape from their small hometown. But now, Lilly wanted it to hold different memories.
It took a second to compose herself. Drawing a deep breath, the salt air from the bay relaxed her as she started down the steps. One at a time, the scene inside the boathouse unfolded in her mind. In there, probably asleep, was the man she’d fallen in love with. The man who was leaving in two days to serve his country.
Her best friend’s brother, Jack Miller.
Jack had stolen Lilly’s heart when she was still in middle school. Along with being Natalie’s brother, he was friends with her older brother, Luca. And of all the guys that hung out at her house, he was the only one who ever treated her like she mattered. He was smart and funny, and his blue eyes flashed every time he smiled.
He talked to her about things that mattered, he asked questions about her life… he showed genuine interest, and whenever Luca or the other boys gave her a hard time, Jack stood up for her.
He was honest and strong–the best guy she knew–and before he left, Lilly was going to tell him how she felt, and her hope was she’d give him her virginity. She wanted nothing more than to feel that bond with him.
The boathouse was her last chance.
Standing on the cobblestone path, she hesitated before reaching out and opening the large paneled door. Doing her best to stay quiet, Lilly reminded herself to keep breathing. It was dark, but a glow from the outside light slipped through the windows, allowing her to see Jack’s muscular frame on the blue upholstered chaise in the corner. He was on his back, his arms draped across his bare belly, and Lilly almost died right there looking at him.
His head was resting on a small pillow and his body glistened with a light sheen of sweat. He was lean and muscular, his arms, chest, and abs well defined. A pair of board shorts obscured her view of anything more personal, which was fine. She already felt like she was spying on him, but if he’d been naked, she would have felt even more guilty.
As Jordan would say, he was a panty-dropper. Approaching the center of the room, she could hear his light snore, nothing more than his breath going in and out… and for a moment, Lilly looked at him, worried she might never see him again.
The thought consumed her. He was going to war. He could die. Without any warning, Lilly’s breath hitched, and tears spilled out of her eyes.
Sniffling, she could feel one tear tracking over her nose, and she watched as it fell right on Jack’s cheek. He felt it, reaching up with his fingers to brush it away.
Lilly stepped back, suddenly losing her nerve. But before she could run, Jack’s eyes opened, and his gaze locked on hers.
“Lilly?” Raising himself onto his elbows, he blinked, trying to adjust to the darkness. “What are you doing here? Is something wrong?”
She had no words. Finally, after all this time, she had the chance to tell him how she felt—and she’d fallen mute.
“Are you crying?” He stood and moved toward her, gently brushing his fingers on her cheek. “You are. What happened? Who hurt you?”
His protectiveness made her warm from the inside out. Once again, Jack showed her why she’d fallen so hard. How could she not? “Oh, no. No one. I’m just… I’m crying because you’re leaving.” Her eyes met his and held. Tell him the truth, she thought. It’s the only thing that matters. “I’m going to miss you.”
Taking her by the shoulders, he grinned, then kissed the top of her head. “I’ll be back. How else would I keep you in line?”
She chuckled, her nerves getting the better of her, then nodded and willed herself not to forget why she came to see him. “Jack, before you leave, I want to give you something.”
“Aw, Lilly, you don’t have to. Just make sure you get your Abuela to send me cookies, okay?”
“No, I want to.” Do it, she thought. Just do it. Don’t lose your nerve. Rising on her toes, Lilly surprised Jack with a kiss.
It was gentle. A little more than a peck, but not too deep. His lips were soft and warm, and when Lilly looked up, his eyes had drifted shut. She had no idea what it all meant, because in her eighteen years, she’d only kissed two other boys. One kiss happened during a game of truth or dare in seventh grade, and the other after homecoming at the beginning of senior year. Both were unremarkable.
Jack hadn’t moved, so Lilly screwed up her nerve. This time, she kissed him for real. And the world spun because Jack kissed her back.
Light exploded behind her eyes as the heat rose in her body. He grasped her head, threading his fingers through her hair, and Lilly let her hands brush over his taut muscles. He reeled when she pressed her hands to his chest, letting them ride up to his shoulders, all while he claimed her mouth in a long, lazy dance. He moved his lips, swept his tongue inside, and the electricity jumped between them.
Finally, he stopped. Frozen in place, his chest heaving, his face pained, his body tight.
“I can’t believe I did that.” He took a step back. “I… I’m sorry I lost control.”
“No, it’s okay.” Lilly touched her lips. They were hot, swollen, and she missed the feel of him already. But something was terribly wrong. Jack turned away, ran his hands through the shock of hair on the top his head, and she heard him curse.
“I don’t know what got into me. I should never have kissed you like that.”
She almost reminded him that she’d been the one to kiss him. Besides, it didn’t really matter. Magic was magic. Cliché that it was, the genie was out of the bottle.
“I thought it was perfect. I wanted that, and I want… I want all of you.” It was more than she’d ever expected, and Lilly knew he felt it too. “I’ve been meaning to tell you all summer how I felt, and now you’re leaving…”
Coming back to her, Jack shoved his hands in his pockets. His voice was level, quiet. “Lilly, I’m too old for you. And your brother would hand me my ass if anything happened between us.”
“No.” She shook her head, knowing Luca would act outraged because he was expected to be, not because he really cared. “That’s not true.”
“Yes. That’s reality.”
Lilly felt her heart break. Right in her chest, it split open. The flat tone in his voice told her he meant what he said. Still, she couldn’t stop. The words were going to come out whether she wanted them to or not. “But I love you. I have for as long as I can remember.”
Holding her head high, Lilly refused to let her shyness about her feelings stop her from telling him what she’d been holding in her heart. She owned this, and if she was going to have to live with them, so was he. “I love you, Jack.”
With one movement, Lilly was on her toes, kissing him again. Maybe it was a mistake, but she was feeling brave, and maybe even a little desperate, now that she’d said the words. His scent surrounded her—a combination of warm air and ocean, with a hint of the summer ale he liked so much. It was intoxicating, giving her the rush of confidence she needed.
If he regretted the first kiss, or the second, she couldn’t tell. Jack’s response to this kiss was immediate, intense. Lilly didn’t know if anything would ever feel as good as his warm mouth moving against hers. Snaking her arms around his neck, she pulled him down, and drew a sharp breath when he banded his arms around her, dragging her close, crushing her against his chest. She felt his fingers, large and calloused, skim the top of her waistband and drift into her shorts. There was a shot of awareness straight to her belly—his hands and his body made her feel everything. There was no controlling her response to the gentle caresses, to the bone-melting heat from his mouth and tongue. Lilly arched and pressed into him.
He held her so close, so tight, that she could barely breathe, not being able to tell where she ended and he began. Everything about him was big… his hands, his arms, his broad chest. Lilly felt her skin sizzle at his touch, and when his hands slipped lower still, sliding his palms over her butt cheeks, her body caught fire.
For the first time in her life, Lilly experienced the burn of desire—sharp and aware—every nerve ending fired. When she felt the hardness in his shorts pressing into her belly, Lilly gasped audibly—and Jack’s eyes snapped open. The quick intake of breath brought him out of his stupor.
“Jesus. You’re dangerous.” Jack stepped away and put a few feet of distance between them. It wasn’t much, but it was enough that Lilly missed the feel of him.
“I’m sorry? I don’t understand.” How could he call her dangerous? He was the one with the advantage.
“I can’t believe the way I reacted. I must be out of my mind.” Scrubbing his face with his hands, Jack looked at the ceiling. “I need to get laid.”
“Okay.” Lilly stood straight, taking only a split second to think about what she was offering. “I mean. I, ah… volunteer.”
Oh, God. Did she just say “volunteer”?
“What? Absolutely not. No.”
“But I love you. I want to be with you.” Those words, the truest she’d ever spoken, wavered and cracked because she already knew what he was going to say.
Holding firm, he waved her off. “It’s just a crush.”
His tone was firm. Dismissive. Lilly loved him, she was sure of it, but she wasn’t going to let him talk down to her.
“I’m going to leave, and you’ll forget all about me. You’re going to college, and there’ll be other guys—”
“Are you kidding? I know what I’m feeling, Jack. Other guys? Are you serious?”
“Lilly, you’re young. Hell, we both are.”
“Young? I’m eighteen and I’m old enough to know my heart.” That very heart squeezed tight. Rejection was bad enough, but for him to reject her and how she felt? Lilly never imagined how much she could hurt.
She wanted to kiss him again, beg him to listen, but she couldn’t. Her pride and her anger kept her from saying anything.
Turning, she walked to the door without uttering another word. All she had to do was hold it together for another minute or two. The last thing she expected was Jack coming after her.
“Don’t be angry. You’re a great girl, Lilly, but you don’t want me.”
Now he was telling her what she did and didn’t want. God, she wanted to tell him where to put his know-it-all attitude. He’d put himself between her and the door, intent on getting her to agree with him before he’d let her go.
“Jack, I’m leaving.”
“Lilly, tell me you understand.” He wanted to know she was okay. But she couldn’t give him that. She wasn’t okay.
“No. I don’t understand. I don’t.” She paused, swallowing her sadness, but not her pride. “Here’s the thing you don’t get…” She poked his bare shoulder. “You might see me as a kid, but I’m not clueless. No one will ever love you the way I do, Jack Miller. In all your life, you will never find anyone who feels for you what I feel.”
Pushing him aside when his guard was down, Lilly flung open the door. “That’s your loss, Jack.”
End of Excerpt