Part 15

Waves crashed against the shoreline. A blanket of stars and a glowing quarter moon gleamed brightly in the night sky. Sea air tasted salty on John's tongue. He enjoyed the sensation and the company of the quiet woman strolling beside him. They'd locked hands soon after they discarded their shoes. John waited for Evangeline to pull away. Relief swept through him when she didn't.

During the few days he'd spent protecting her, they created a routine. He learned her habits, likes and dislikes. He suspected she knew the same of him. His sense of humor wasn't lost on her and her zingers brought tears of laughter to his eyes more than once. All in all, what brewed between them had grown comfortable. Too comfortable for John's peace of mind because he had no idea what he'd do once that comfort was gone.

"A nickel for your thoughts."

He glanced at her and frowned. "Just a nickel?"

"Are your thoughts worth more than that?" She swallowed a giggle. "The economy isn't what it used to be. I have to watch my spending."

"Oh, so I should be flattered that you were willing to pay as much as a nickel."

She elbowed his arm. "I can't get anything past you."

"Not much," he murmured. "My thoughts, huh?" He cocked his head to the side. "Where's the nickel? I know how lawyers operate. I want my money up front."

"What a suspicious mind," she teased. "I'm good for it. Now, out with it, or I'll demand a refund before you even say anything!"

"Okay, okay." He looked toward the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean. "I'm enjoying this and I'm not sure that I should."

"Perfectionists are allowed vacations."

"Oh, really?" They stopped. John pulled his shirt off and spread it on the sand for her to sit. After she was settled, he claimed a spot just inches from her thigh. "When was the last time you went on vacation?"

"Well… Um…" She crossed her ankles and hugged her knees to her chest. "My parents took me to Coney Island once. Does that count?"

He laughed. "No. You should relax more. Let your hair down." He shifted to his elbows. "Chill out."

"Do you?" She rested her cheek on her knees. "You've been on guard the entire time. I know this isn't a vacation. You're here on police business, but the clock isn't ticking now. We're on a beach in Puerto Rico! There's not one cloud in the sky and the night is magical. Relax, John. Enjoy the moment."

His breath lodged in his throat as he watched her mouth form the words. How he wanted to enjoy her. Kiss the saltwater from her lips. Indulge in his attraction to her. Lower the guards that protected his fears of repeating the past.

She reached out. Her knuckles brushed his stubble-covered jaw. A finger grazed his bottom lip. He shuddered and she gasped. He took her hand and kissed each fingertip.

"Oh, Evangeline…" He leaned forward to claim her mouth. Just one more taste to sustain him a lifetime. That's all he wanted. It was all he deserved.

Her lips parted. Without pausing to think, he deepened the kiss. His tongue traced the fullness of her bottom lip, suckling before diving in. Her hand closed around the back of his neck. He wrapped an arm around her, pulling her round curves hard against his chest.

Murmurs of pleasure vibrated against their lips. His manhood stirred, clamoring for release. As the kiss ended, he pulled her onto his lap and buried his face in the curve of her neck. Her silky soft hair caressed his check. The smell of peaches consumed his senses. He shuddered, unable to release her.

She stroked his back in long, delicious strokes. "What are we so afraid of?" she asked, clinging to him.

"Pain," he said. "I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to hurt."

"Is there a way to prevent it?" Her fingers dug into his shoulder. "Pretending hurts and if we continue to ignore… We're doing everything in reverse."

He needed to see her eyes. Reluctantly, he pulled away. "You should be courted. Hearts, flowers, chocolate…you should have all of that."

"So, what's stopping you?"

"What?" He took a deep breath. "Are you sure about this?"

"Who's sure about anything?" She looked toward the ocean for just a moment. "There's a big world out there. People search for years to find what we've easily acquired… It's too late to ask if we're sure. The better question is are we brave enough to take a chance?"

"I want to be."

She gave him the sweetest smile. "So, do I."

Instead of sealing the new development with a kiss, they embraced. As John felt their hearts pound in unison, he noticed movement beyond the sand dune. Without frightening her, he rushed them back to the hotel. After she was tucked safely inside, he went back out, but his search was an exercise in wasted effort. He decided to leave Antonio's whereabouts to his friends in the FBI. First thing the next morning, he and Evangeline returned home to Llanview.

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