I shook my head. “That’s not why.”

He seemed to relax a little. “I can see now that I shouldn’t have talked to her about it, and I’m sorry. From now on, she’s completely out of our personal lives. No matter what happens.”

“If you’re such great friends, was that also why she was all over you at the charity dinner?”

He scowled and half turned away, looking past me. “Christ, Erica. You know, you broke up with me, and I’m the one explaining myself here.”

He had a point. I took a breath and tried to adopt a less accusatory tone. “You said you wanted to be with me, no matter what, so if that’s something I’m going to consider, I think I should know what’s really going on between you two.”

He hesitated, his gaze fixed on me as if he were searching. I started to worry. That familiar sickness spread as I imagined what they’d done together. And I’d have no one to blame but myself. Whatever had happened between them had happened because I’d pushed him away.

“When she realized we weren’t together, she didn’t pass up a chance to try to hook up. I shot her down, of course. No matter what was happening between you and me, I wouldn’t ever go back to her, Erica. Our relationship was never exactly fulfilling, and you know how she is to some extent. Try to imagine being in a relationship with that. She’s a nightmare.”

I couldn’t argue. I often wondered how they’d managed to be together as long as they had, but people did change, for better or worse. Maybe she hadn’t always been as much of a malicious cunt when they were together, but I didn’t want to give her the benefit of the doubt.

“So…” I cocked my head, waiting for him to continue.

“Since she and I broke up, she’s always been physical like that with me. Honestly, I never thought much of it until you showed up that night, and by then it was obvious how jealous you were. I took a gamble.”

“You wanted to make me jealous.”

“Nothing else was working.” He brushed my cheek with his fingertips. “Seems like making you insanely jealous does the trick though. I’ll have to remember that next time you decide we need ‘space.’” He gestured with air quotes.

I caught myself smiling, but it soon faded. Blake was talking about all these things like they were in the past tense. Our problems weren’t nearly behind us yet.

I searched for the right words. “Blake…”

He hushed me. “I have a feeling you’re about to tell me something I don’t want to hear, so how about you let me kiss you instead?”

Angling over my lips, he did, and I let him. I savored the sweetness on his tongue. I breathed him in with the salty air and let the ocean wash away all the things we didn’t want to hear or talk about. We stood there for what seemed like forever, simply kissing. We let our hands roam, eagerly but not frantically. For now, I was content to be this close. I could do this for hours.

The night had gone almost completely dark, and voices approached.

“Hey, lovebirds,” Heath called. “Mom’s going to come looking for you soon. Dessert’s ready.”

Blake groaned and rolled his eyes. I laughed and nuzzled into his shoulder, bashful and entirely too wound up to be presentable.

“I need a minute,” I whispered.

“No kidding. I’m so hard it hurts.”

“Mmm, I know the cure for that.” I slid up against him, his erection straining against his jeans at my hip.

“You’re seriously not helping. I can’t have her catch us out here.”

I took a breath and a reluctant step back. The ocean waves crashed closer to the retaining wall as the tide came in. Alli and Heath walked hand in hand back toward the house. I was so happy that she was coming back. We could do this more often, all of us together. Maybe.

“Where did you two wander off to?” Catherine asked when we got back to the house.

“They were making out in the gazebo,” Heath blurted.

Blake punched him in the shoulder. Heath retaliated until they were laughing and grappling on the floor of the deck like wild animals.

“Boys! Boys! My lord, seriously. Greg, come control these boys!” Catherine flushed, a mix of laughter and embarrassment flashing across her features.

Alli, Fiona, and I were doubled over with laughter as the two continued their wrestling match a safer distance from where we sat. Greg emerged with a giant pot of water and dumped it on them.

They cursed and finally separated. When Blake returned, he had a silly grin on his face. He leaned in to give me a hug, making his best effort to get me wet too.

“Blake, stop it,” I giggled.

“Just trying to share the wealth.”

My phone rang. I pushed him away playfully and fished it out of my purse. I froze. It was Daniel. I looked around, half expecting to see Connor, but we were completely secluded. He was probably calling to bitch at me about the interview, but it was the last thing I wanted to think about.

I ignored the call and tried to think about how I was going to handle this shift between Blake and me. We were falling hard and fast into our old ways, the normal rhythm of our relationship. I was at his parents’ house, for heaven’s sake, having a great night with his amazing family. This was way too far outside the scope of acceptable behavior according to Daniel.

He called again, and I turned my phone off. I didn’t care. I had so much love around me right now. Between Blake and me, Heath and Alli, among his warm and caring family, how could I let Daniel’s evil penetrate something that felt so right, so good? I pushed him out of my mind, unwilling to let him ruin the best day I’d had since I said goodbye to Blake. I didn’t want to think about that part of my life, at least not yet.

We spent the rest of the evening talking and listening to Blake’s family tell embarrassing stories about each other. We laughed and drank and enjoyed the beautiful night. Blake never left my side, holding my hand on his lap possessively, as if he were afraid to let me go even for a second. I didn’t mind, because I felt the same way.

A little tipsy, I said my goodbyes to everyone. Alli, Fiona, and I proclaimed that we loved each other no less than a dozen times. Heath bore witness, affirming the statement with us each time in his ever-patient sobriety. Catherine held me in a firm hug that seemed to last forever. I hugged her back. Hugs were good. Blake finally coaxed us apart. We stepped outside, and I stumbled a bit toward the car.

We got in and I snuggled up to Blake, kissing his neck and biting his earlobe. “I want you.”

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