“You know you’re staring, right?” Eileen bumped me with her knee.
I forced my gaze off of them. “Just trying to figure out if this is for the episode or real.”
“Yeah, sure.” She tilted her drink back.
I glanced at Emma and found her watching me. She didn’t look away, and I held the contact and stared through the smoke at her. She tilted her head to one side, indicating the empty stretch of beach to our left. I immediately rose.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe, in this twisted situation, she would make the first move.
* * *
A camera trailed us, the operator aware enough to stay twenty feet back. With the quiet beach and the moon reflecting off the waves—it almost felt like we were just two ordinary people. I said something to that effect, and she laughed under her breath.
“You’ve never been a normal person, Cash.” She looked over at me, and she had to be chilly in that sundress. The skimpy spaghetti straps, the short length that flapped against her thighs with each step that she took… I should have brought a jacket. Something to put around her shoulders. “You know that, right? All that stuff you feed the media about being a regular guy…” she stopped and faced me. The wind whipped a strand of her hair across her face, and I shoved my hands in my pockets to keep from tucking it back into place. “It’s crap.”
I frowned. “No, it’s not.”
“It IS. You grew up with Jocelyn as a mother. Do you have any concept of what that means?”
“Do YOU have any concept of what that means?” I countered, my voice taking on that hard edge that liked to creep in when I was annoyed. “Everyone says that like it’s a good thing. It’s not. My mom…” I broke off, aware of the cameras. “She brings a lot of attention with her,” I said and hoped it was a believable transition. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
She kept that famous Emma Blanton mouth quiet for a moment and studied me, and maybe, maybe she heard what I was trying to say. I glanced back at the camera guy who was inching forward, almost hidden by the dark. I looked back at her and tried to mentally telegraph what I wanted to say. My mother was a monster. The press was my protection because, in front of them, she was perfect.
Her gaze drifted to the camera and then back to me. “Let’s go for a swim.” She turned to face the water and twisted her hair into a knot on the back of her hair, exposing the clasp on her dress.
“What?” I asked dully, not comprehending. There was a reason no one was out here, and it was due to the unseasonable chill, though maybe the sharks should be a concern as well.
She glanced over her shoulder, her profile lit by the moon. “Let’s go for a swim,” she repeated, and there was a bit of a challenge in her voice. “Get my zipper.”
I may have been slow and skeptical, but I wasn’t going to just stand there when a beautiful woman told me to undo her dress. I carefully undid the top clasp and stole the moment to run my fingers over the soft skin just above the fabric. I pulled on the tiny zipper pull and watched as inch after inch of her skin was exposed. No bra strap. I pulled further. I got to the place where the microphone was clipped and hesitated, then kept going.
The top of her lace underwear was exposed, and I almost groaned at the sight of it. I stopped and stepped back. She pushed at the bunched fabric, and it fell to the sand. I heard a shuffle of sand behind me and remembered the camera guy. Striding toward him, I put my palm in front of his lens. “Get back!”
“They’re going to pixelate everything,” he protested. “I just need the sound.”
I shoved, and he cursed, tripping back and falling onto his butt. He tried to get up in the soft sand and fell back down.
A laugh came from Emma’s direction. I turned my head just in time to catch her moving toward the surf, her bare skin glowing in the moonlight, the bounce of her small breasts as she ran toward the sea. I yanked at my t-shirt, pulling it over my head and tossed it to one side, then fumbled with the tie of my shorts. Ripping the fabric, I got them around off and left them in the sand, my mic pack still clipped to the waistband.
I caught her as she was wading in, already hip-deep, her arms crossed over her chest as she gingerly moved into the water and holy shit—it was cold. I cursed as the ice hit the most sensitive part of my body and instinctively moved closer to her. “Are you sure you want to do this?”