I sigh as I kick off my boots and work the zipper of my jeans. “I promise that I, a grown man and not a horny teenage boy, won’t think twice about seeing you in your—how did you put it? Tastefully conservative underwear. Besides, I have the benefit of knowing you’re a married woman.”
I meant to say the last part as a reminder to myself more than her—I’m practically panting at the idea that she’ll walk toward the shore and I’ll get a glimpse of her wet bra clinging to her curves—but the mention of her past and her husband back in California dampens the light in her eyes in one fell swoop. It’s like I just cut the music and flipped on the lights—party’s over.
She turns to look up the creek, and I berate myself for once again putting my foot in my mouth. We were having a surprisingly good time, and I bet it could continue if I swallow my pride a little bit.
“Forget I said that, okay? Here, look, I’m in my underwear now too, so we’re even.”
She turns back and I catch the subtle way her eyes widen when she sees me standing on the shore in my boxers. She does the quickest scan from head to toe I’ve ever seen and then her gaze flips to the sky. She looks like she’s praying.
“I thought it was implied that the whole ‘not getting weird’ thing goes both ways.”
“No, no, I’m fine.” Her voice is high and squeaky, but she recovers fast. “Wait, so you really know how to do a backflip?”
She sounds thoroughly impressed, and I can’t help but think, Move over, Carrie Suthers. Looks like my rope swing skills are still paying dividends.
It takes her a few tries to toss the rope up to me on the shore, but then I grab hold of it and climb up to the highest part of the bank.
“Shall I count down?” she asks.
Alfred barks from a few yards down, anxious about what I’m about to do. He’s seen me swing plenty of times, but it still makes him nervous.
“Twenty-five, twenty-four, twenty-three—”
“Okay, threetwoone GO!”
I jump off the ledge and arc out over the water. When the rope extends to the farthest point, right over the deepest part of the creek, I let go and allow muscle memory to take over. Warm wind rushes around me as I flip then plunge into the icy water with a splash. I kick up to the surface and shake off the feeling of tiny needles stabbing into my skin. I always forget just how intensely cold it is in the spring-fed creek. The water bubbles straight up from an underground aquifer, so it’s never warm, not even in the heat of summer.
Meredith claps as I break the surface. “Bravo! I totally thought you were bluffing.”
“It wasn’t bad for my first of the season. I’ll get more air next time.”
“More air!? You were practically flying there for a second. How’d you do that?”
“You’re just trying to talk your way out of your turn.”
She feigns shock. “What? Me? No! I just want to hear all about how you learned to do a backflip. Tell me in excruciating detail. Don’t leave anything out.”
She throws up her hands and they splash back into the water. “All right! Okay. I’m going…”
With a sigh, she starts swimming for the shore while I hold the end of the rope. For the record, I don’t try to leer at her as she walks out of the water. I have every intention of keeping my promise about not letting things get weird, but then the water starts to slip away inch by inch and I’m a man at a complete loss. The sun shines on the water in just the right way to create a shimmering reflection, and the effect is two Merediths, different but the same. One is an illusion, the other all too real.
Her tan, toned back gives way to a small waist and long legs. Her bra is lacy and pale cream, sexier than I was expecting. Her underwear are full-coverage cotton panties, yet somehow I find them cute as hell, especially while they’re clinging to her ass.
I knew she had a good body, but not a killer body—not a body that makes me abundantly grateful that the water concealing the lower half of my body is ice cold.
Get a fuckin’ grip, I scold myself.
Once she’s on the shore, she wraps her arms around her chest, as if she’s embarrassed, and then makes a mad dash to the rope swing.
“Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.” She turns to me and probably sees that my brain has lost all control of motor function. “I said don’t look!”
I slap my hand over my eyes comically. “There? Better?”
“Yes. For the record, these aren’t thrift store tighty-whities. They’re designer tighty-whities.”
“Really? I’m pretty sure they’re the same ones Edith wears. Cute that you guys match.”
“Why do you know so much about your grandma’s unmentionables?”
“Haven’t you heard the rumors about us in the Deep South?
“Wow, is that a genuine joke from Jack McNight? Color me shocked. Now just throw me the rope, will you?”
I drop the hand covering my eyes so I know where to aim. She’s forced to uncross her arms so she can catch it, and I really fucking wish she was wearing a different bra, something that matched her underwear, because the tiny lacy thing covering her chest is sopping wet and I doubt she realizes just how translucent it is. I’m pretty sure I can see the tips of her breasts, and for some reason, I miss the mark on my first few throws.
“Jeez, you suck at this.”
I don’t even respond because I know my voice would come out hoarse and crackly, like a twelve-year-old in his first week of puberty. I’ve never seen a sexier sight. A naked woman is one thing, but a woman barely concealed, covering just enough to make you wonder if you’re seeing something or if your eyes are just playing tricks on you? It is without comparison.
I try my damnedest to keep my attention on her face.
I toss the rope and she misses it.
I think this is what they refer to as cruel and unusual punishment.
“Okay! Just like that. I swear I’ll catch it now.”
If she doesn’t, I’m going to drown myself as penance for my sins. I promised her I wouldn’t let it get weird, and I’m a goddamn liar.
I toss the rope one last time and she catches it at the last second. “Woo! Okay, now move back so I won’t hit you.”
I do as she says, though I know there’s not a chance in hell she’ll make it out this far.
“Either hold your bent elbows close or let your arms extend out fully, because once you get to the bottom of the arc it’s going to feel like you weigh twice as much.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m sure it’s not that hard.”
She jumps and barely clears the edge of the bank before inertia wins out and yanks her into the water. It was less of a rope swing and more of a rope drop.
“Oh my god! I barely even made it off the ledge.” She laughs once she surfaces, burying her face in her hands. “You made it look so easy!”
“About average for your first try.”
It was below average.
“Oh please, I basically just flopped into the water like a dead fish.”
I laugh. “Next time leave your arms fully extended like I told you and make sure to bend your knees. Want to try again?”
“I don’t know.” She bites her bottom lip, thinking it over. “That was pretty embarrassing.”
“No one saw it but me,” I reassure her.
“And Alfred.” She points over to where he’s lounging on the bank, basking in the sun, half asleep.
“Something tells me he didn’t care. Here, c’mon. Now that you know what to expect, it should go a lot better.”
She swims over and climbs back out onto the bank. Her underwear has crept up and I can see the edges of her tan butt cheeks. I’ve seen bikinis more revealing than what she’s wearing, but it’s still such a turn-on. I shift my gaze up to the oak tree and focus in on a nest. Yes, look at that—ahhh, the beauty of nature.
“Ready!” she declares.
This time she does what I tell her and actually manages to swing out toward me before she lets go of the rope and drops into the water like a pro.