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He tenses up, but I just hold him, waiting until his solid muscles unclench, and he’s hugging me back, our bodies joined for a moment in something safe, and warm, and innocent.

I wonder how long it’s been since somebody held him, really held him. Since he felt like he wasn’t the one to carry his family’s burdens, and keep everything together. All this time, he’s been alone in his pain.

I know what that’s like. I know how dark it seems, fighting to stay above water, when the world is conspiring to pull you under.

“You’re amazing.” I whisper, lifting my head so my lips can find his ear.

He makes a low snort. “You don’t even know me.”

“I know enough.” I tell him, pulling back to look at him. Emerson’s face is shadowed in the dark, but I can see the desperate hope in his eyes. “I know you’re brave, and strong, and you’d do anything for the ones you love.” I swallow, knowing I’m about to say too much, but not caring anymore. If my words can make him see what I do, break through the doubt and bitterness he has built around his heart, then it’s worth it, worth making a fool of myself, if he can just understand how special he is.“I only met you a week ago, and I already know for sure, you’re a good man. Maybe even the best I’ve ever known.”


My words hang between us, wrapped in the gentle crash of the waves against the shore. I watch as Emerson inhales a ragged breath, then he’s reaching for me. Not like before, wild and unleashed, but gentle. Hesitant. He touches his palm against my cheek, fingers tracing along the outline of my cheekbone and jaw.

I shiver, his touch like fire against me. Fire and ice, sending every nerve sparkling with energy. He takes a step closer to me, dark gaze still fixed on mine, and it’s too much. I have to close my eyes, just to focus on the feel of his slow caress, and the faint warmth of his breath against my cheek.

My heart drums in a wild rhythm as he runs his fingertips over every inch of my face. My nose, my eyes, my lips… His touch is light as feathers, but every new whisper against my skin sends golden sparks rushing in my bloodstream, twisting lower, pooling with sweet tension between my thighs.

I feel him everywhere.

At last, he cups his hands around me and cradles my face, so delicately, I feel like my body is about to shatter apart and spin out into the night.

My legs are weak, I can barely breathe. Everything I have is strung out, pulled taut, waiting for his kiss. And then, oh, finally, he lowers his lips to mine, and presses them against me in the sweetest, most tender kiss.

It’s a revelation.

It's the most dizzying thing I've ever felt before, heartbreakingly pure. Neither of us move, or think, or breathe, we just exist in this single moment, our lips barely touching, but a lifetime of quiet hopes and secret pain passing between us.

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Time stops. I swear, my heart stops beating. Suddenly, everything I have in the world is right here, suspended in the gentle touch of his soft lips on mine, a whole universe bound up in this one moment. A promise. A bond.

Then Emerson catches his breath, and pulls me closer. The kiss deepens. Still soft and slow, but now my hands are locked around his neck, and his fingers run through my hair. I lean into him, falling into his solid, muscular warmth, and the ridge of his shoulders under my roving palms. He teases my mouth open, and then our tongues are intertwined: tasting, searching, drinking in this moment like we can make it last forever.

I fall into the kiss like it’s gravity. There's no thought or decision in my mind anymore, only the sweet warmth that floods my system, every cell in my body set alive, racing with pleasure, and desire, and something more: a bone deep rightness. I can't even process it, only respond from some place of pure instinct, like we're dancing in perfect harmony to steps I never even knew I learned.

I was made for this. To pull him closer, kiss him deeper, let everything go and just sink into the perfection. I could stay here forever, I realize, through the haze of us. He finally breaks away, his breath coming ragged and hoarse. I can see from the look of sheer wonder in his eyes that he feels it too: whatever this is, he's right here with me.

Emerson wordlessly holds out his hand to me, and I take it, and follow him deeper into the dark of the dunes.

I would follow him anywhere.


I should stop.

Before I pull her any deeper into the bleak mess of my life, before I lose it all. I should take her back to the party, drive her home—stay in brightly-lit places, around other people, with my hands to myself.

But I can’t. I couldn’t stop kissing her even if the world was burning down around us, if the whole universe was torn apart at the seams.

She’s the only thing that’s ever made sense to me, and now I’ve had a taste of her sweetness, I can’t ever go back.

I need to make her mine.

I find a private part of the dunes, away from the party noise. It’s a sheltered spot facing the bay, with the sand still warm from the sun. Juliet pulls my hoodie from her shoulders and spreads it on the ground. She sits, delicately, tucking her legs under her and looking up at me with that wide-eyed stare. Innocent. Inviting. I drop onto the sand beside her, and reach for her without a word.

She comes to me, willingly, her soft lips pressing eagerly to mine, her tongue sliding into my mouth. Jesus. I kiss her back, ravenous, pulling her close as her hands slide up around my shoulders, roaming across my back. I shudder under her touch, and yank her into my lap, lifting her so she’s straddling me, our bodies pressed tight together.