“T.J. got a boat?” I asked. “He lives in an apartment, doesn’t he? Where’s he going to keep it?”

“Actually, he bought a house here, too. He got a place over on Vineyard. It’s pretty nice,” Chloe replied.

I gave a low whistle. “Those houses are very nice over there. Damn. When he settles in, he settles in, doesn’t he?” I said, chuckling.

“Hey!” Chloe said brightly. “He got a pontoon, so there’s plenty of room. You guys wanna go with us? We’ll probably cookout beside the lake later, too, or get something at one of the places right there by the water. It’ll be fun!”

I glanced at Ian and he shrugged, indicating that it was up to me. “You sure T.J. won’t care?”

“Nah,” Brandon said, “We’re gonna leave in about an hour, so we’ll swing by and just pick you up. Sound good?”

“Sure.”

Plans in place, we all headed out to get things ready, and an hour later, we were on the road to the lake in Brandon’s Expedition, windows down, radio blasting, enjoying the sunshine and warmth of the last days of summer.

It took about forty-five minutes to get there and T.J. was already there when we pulled up at the marina. He was on the boat, kicked back with his feet up and his hands behind his head, a ball cap covering his hair and dark sunglasses hiding his eyes.

He didn’t move as we walked down the ramp onto the dock, but I could tell he was tracking us by the slight movement of his head.

“What’s up?” he drawled, dropping his hands and getting to his feet as we all boarded the boat.

The guys shared handshakes and the back-slapping man-hug that was required of them, and then T.J. gave me and Chloe hugs before we got things situated and he put us underway, heading out into the open water of the lake.

Chloe and I sat up front, while Ian and Brandon sprawled on the ‘L’ shaped lounger, talking to T.J. as he sat in the captain’s chair, maneuvering the boat across the water. It was a beautiful day, but was starting to get hot and humid.

I gathered my hair and tied it up on top of my head, not only to cool myself marginally, but also to stop it from whipping around my face like crazy, noticing that Chloe was doing the same with her long, blonde hair.

We motored around the lake for a bit and then T.J. pulled us into a cove just beyond a line of buoys marked with ‘Swimming Area’. Brandon got up and moved to the front of the boat, dropping the anchor out for T.J. as I looked back at him and asked, needlessly, “We’re going swimming?”

“You don’t want to?” he asked in response, shutting off the engine.

“Didn’t say that,” I said, grinning at him. He smiled back and stood, removing his hat and sunglasses, dropping them onto the dash console before he yanked his shirt off, leaving him standing there in nothing but his low riding board shorts.

Ian and Brandon followed suit, and suddenly, Chloe and I were sitting there, looking at three half-naked, Grade-A Prime, tattooed, pierced, and perfect, hotter-than-hot, males.

“God, they’re pretty,” Chloe breathed beside me. I could only nod in agreement.

We looked at each other and grinned when Brandon cleared his throat and crossed his arms, commenting dryly, “We’re not just gonna stand here all day for you to ogle.”

T.J. turned away and opened the gate to the back platform, lowering the ladder into the water. Brandon followed him and jumped in with no hesitation, disappearing beneath the water as Chloe stripped out of her shorts and tank top, revealing a navy and white striped bikini.

I stripped down to my own blue, green, and white patterned bikini, feeling a pang of pride and relief at how at ease Chloe was with herself now. Last year, Chloe would never have worn anything revealing that would possibly show the scars left behind by her psycho ex, who’d abused her beyond belief, resulting in killing the baby she’d carried and almost Chloe. She’d gotten away, but he found her last year, and kidnapped and tried to kill her once more.

He ended up six feet under, and Chloe ended up with her happy ever after, which she deserved more than anything. Since then, Brandon had done wonders for her, shown her that she was beautiful, scars and all, which just endeared him to me even more.

Chloe moved to the back of the boat and looked for Brandon, who had surfaced a few feet from the boat. She grinned and jumped into the water, swimming directly into his arms once she broke the surface.

T.J. followed, diving into the water with precision and grace, leaving Ian and I along on the boat. I stepped toward the back, intending to follow them all into the water, but shrieked when Ian scooped me up in his arms suddenly.

“Ian…” I warned, “No. Don’t you dare throw me in!” I struggled in his arms, but knew better. His hold was too strong, albeit very gentle.

He chuckled. “You were about to jump in anyway, right?”

“Yeah, but that’s not the same as being thrown in. You love me, don’t you?” I cajoled in a saccharine sweet voice, batting my eyes at him.

“I do,” he replied, matching my tone. “But that’s not going to save you.”

He strode to the back of the boat, stood on the platform and kissed me quickly before he grinned…and tossed me into the water.

I swam up to the surface, glaring up at him. “You ass!”

“But you love me,” he said, still grinning unabashedly. Then he jumped in, sending a wave of water splashing up in my face.

Chapter 11

We played in the water, splashing and dunking like adolescents, enjoying the company and the freedom of the moment. After a while, I was done swimming, so I climbed back up into the boat and wrapped my towel around me, pulling my hair down from its knot and wringing it out over the side.

I piled it back up on my head and curled up on the lounger, watching Ian float by on his back, grinning up at me as I looked down at him over the side. I noticed that Brandon and Chloe had gotten quiet, so I chanced a glance over at them, only to smile when I saw Chloe wrapped around Brandon, his hands cupping her ass, faces close as they talked quietly to each other in the water, kissing every so often between words.

I felt the boat sway and looked back to see T.J. climbing up the ladder. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around him, plopping down on the other end of the lounger by my feet.

He smacked my leg playfully and asked me, “Have fun?”

I nodded. “Yep. Too bad you waited til the end of summer to get a boat,” I quipped, jokingly.

A weird look flashed across his face briefly, so quick I wasn’t even sure I really saw it, before it was replaced with a rueful half-smile. “It is too bad, isn’t it,” he stated in agreement.

“So you got a place over on Vineyard, huh?”

He nodded in response, but didn’t offer any information.

I glanced back down in the water, watching Ian cut through the water with sure strokes, like he was swimming laps, rather than floating like he had been.

T.J. and I sat in silence for a bit, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. It was companionable, because I’d been around him so many times before, but I still hadn’t talked to him very much. Most of the guys like Luke, Brandon, and Ian were the strong silent type, but T.J. made them seem like gossip mongers. And he really didn’t ask anyone for anything; he showed up, did his job, or whatever activity we asked him to do with us, and then he went home.

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