Page 44 of Hot Mess

“That’s brutal.”

“That’s life,” I replied honestly. “People who work a lot have to sacrifice a lot. For me, that was a lot of personal relationships, and look where it’s gotten me.”

“Dramatic, but understandable.”

“Dramatic?” I laughed hollowly. “I guess so. I’m just wishing I made different choices than the ones I did.”

“I think everyone feels like that. I sometimes wish I’d made different choices, but then I wouldn’t have my life now. Sure, I don’t get to go out, and I lost my twenties because I became a single dad when I was twenty-two, but I have the most wonderful daughter out of those decisions.” He stepped toward me and pushed my hair from my face. “Your decisions led you here, Elle. To a place where you can change the decisions you’ve made. Where there are people who care about you.”

“Lots of people care about me, Theo, but it’s because of who I am.”

“I wanted to avoid you because of who you are. Then I got to know you. I’m not here because you’re Elle Evans, vlogger of things I don’t understand.”

I met his eyes, fighting a smile.

“I’m here because you’re just Elle, and I happen to kind of like this version of you. Despite all my efforts otherwise.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“That’s on you. I still don’t have your number.”

“You still haven’t asked. That’s not my fault. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Theo’s lips twitched. “Can I have your phone number?”

Laughter bubbled inside me. “No, sorry.”

“What the fuck?”

“I don’t have my phone, and I don’t know the number anyway.” I grinned, patting his cheek. “You’ll have to wait.”

He sighed, but I could see he was trying not to laugh at me.

“Besides, I thought you were here because Blaire made you.”

“Eh, I’m not good at the dating thing. I’m out of practice.”

My eyes widened. “Are you saying you want to date me?”

He barked out the laugh he’d been holding in and pulled me out of the almost knee-deep water. “See? Not great. But there’s no need to look so surprised.”

“I’m not surprised. I’m shocked. I can be that.” Yep. I could be that. One hundred percent shocked.

“I’m really attracted to you, Elle,” he said quietly. “Have been since I saw you. I don’t know how long you’re gonna be here for, but for as long as you’re here, I’d like to spend time with you.”

Wow.

Wow.

I smiled shyly, pushing my hair back from my face, and turned to walk back to the house. “I don’t mind your company,” I admitted. “And as for being here… I sent you money for another week this morning. I meant to do it on Friday, but—”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“I wanted to extend for a month. I like it here. It’s quiet and calm and slow-paced. I think it might do me some good to get away from my normal life.” I peered over at him with a small smile. “Besides, I have no idea what’s going to happen when I eventually go back to New York, but for now, my sister is sending my belongings down to me.”

“Another month? On top of this week?”

“Sure. Why not? There are worse places I could hide.” I stepped on the bottom step of the deck and looked over at the beautiful beach with its golden sand and turquoise waters. “Worse places. Worse people.”

Theo stepped right up to me but stayed on the sand. Here, I was almost as tall as he was, and we were so close that our lips almost touched.

I breathed in sharply. Sure, we’d kissed before, but we’d been drunk. We were stone cold sober now, and he’d just admitted that he was attracted to me.

Would kissing him be the worst thing in the world?

I waited.

He didn’t make the move, just like last time. He just stared at me until he slowly reached up and trailed his fingers across my cheek, tucking a stray lock of hair behind my ear.

Still no kiss.

So I did it for him.

I braced my hands on his shoulders and pressed my lips against his. For someone who hadn’t kissed me, he responded enthusiastically. His arms wound around my waist and held me firmly against him, and I slipped mine over his shoulders and deepened the kiss.

It warmed my entire body, and even though this one didn’t last as long as the previous one, the ghost of it lingered on my lips for so much longer.

“Do you usually make the first move?” he teased.

I extracted myself from his grip and said, “Only when the guy has already told me he’s attracted to me and has asked for my number… then doesn’t.”

“Touché.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now let’s make you a video.”

I turned around and looked at him, lips parted. “You’re going to help me?”

Theo held out his hands. “What am I gonna do? Kiss and run?”

“You did a few days ago.”

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