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Emerson turns his head to look at me. He reaches over, and gently brushes a lock of damp hair from my cheek. “Me too.” he sighs.

“You ever think, what you’d be doing if you didn’t have to stay here?” I ask, curious. He’s told me about Brit and Ray Jay, about being the only one who can hold down a steady job – or three – to make ends meet for rent and bills.

Emerson shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“Think,” I encourage him.“Anything, anywhere. Whatever you want.”

Emerson exhales in a long sigh. “I don’t know,” he says again, “Maybe, go to the city. Atlanta, or Charlotte. Somewhere they don’t know anything about me. Or my mom.” He trails off, thinking. “I like it at the bar,” he adds. “Jimmy’s a good guy, but we could do more, to bring in business. Maybe I’d like to have my own place someday. Something that’s all my own.”

“You will.” I lean over and kiss him on the shoulder.

He shrugs again. “It’s stupid, I probably shouldn’t even think about it.”

“What did I tell you?” I sit up now, looking down at him. I place my hand on his chest, above his heart, feel the steady beat, strong and true. “Well?” I prompt, waiting.

His lips curve in a soft grin. “It’s never stupid to hope,” he repeats my words back at me, but there’s still a reluctance there, like he doesn’t really believe it.

My heart aches for him. Sometimes hope is all that gets me through, hope that one day, I can make a life for myself without the coldness, and rejection, and insecurity I’ve lived with ever since I was old enough to notice it. Hope’s been my constant friend, the light at the end of the tunnel. But Emerson gave up on hope, a long time ago. He doesn’t even think he has the right, anymore.

I’ll just have to hope enough for the both of us.

“You can do it, one day.” I lean down, and gently drop a kiss on his eyelids, his nose, along the line of his jaw. “I believe in you.”

Emerson tightens his arms around me, holding me against his chest for a moment.

“What about you?” I feel the question as a rumble. “College in California, right?”


There’s silence. Suddenly, the future is a loaded gun, waiting for someone to pull the trigger.

I lay there, feeling the rise and fall of his chest. Funny, how just a couple of weeks ago, California was all I could think about. Finally getting away and putting the whole country between me and my past.

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But now, that distance would divide me from Emerson, too. Thousands of miles away from his kisses, hours from his heartbeat.

I feel a chill cut through the warm haze of this perfect day, and I can tell from the new tension in Emerson’s body, he feels it too.

Two weeks.

How can things change so completely in two weeks? Or, even less than that. A day, the first day I met Emerson. The very first moment. We were strangers. I walked around in this world, not even knowing he existed, and now leaving the arms currently wrapped around me seems almost unthinkable. I belong here, I know it, with every instinct in my body.

It’s too much to think about right now, not when we’re having such a blissful time. I push all my worries down, and trace the tattoos that wind across Emerson’s bicep and side.

“I should get one,” I decide.“A bird maybe. A sparrow, or a blue jay.”

“Jaybird, huh?” Emerson repeats it with a smile. “You sure you’re up for it? Hurts like a motherfucker,” he warns me.

“I can take it. I’m strong.”

“Oh, really?” Emerson laughs, rolling suddenly to pin me beneath him. My pulse skips, feeling his delicious weight pressing into my wrists, my hips. His mouth grazes down my throat, and I shiver, staring up at the trees above us.

“Sure. I could take you in a fight,” I tease, closing my eyes. His tongue blazes a trail down my chest, nudging my bikini top aside. I let out a soft moan as he licks around my nipple, soft and hot against my cool skin. His body tenses above me, fingertips digging into my flesh, and I marvel I have this effect on him.

The dark look in his eyes is just for me. The catch in his breath, the low groan as I buck my hips up against him… I’m doing this. I’m driving him wild.

Suddenly, I push my wrists out, breaking his hold. I flip, rolling on top of him so I’m straddling his lap. I pin his wrists against the blanket, looking down at him with a teasing smile. “See?” I tell him, laughing. “I’ve got you now.”

“You sure about that?” Emerson thrusts his hips up against me, and now it’s my breath that’s catching, feeling the friction, the ache twist tighter. Yes. He breaks my hold, the weight of my grip nothing to him. He sits up, wrapping his arms around me, trapping my arms across my chest. I’m caught, helpless in his lap, feeling the heat of his body all the way through me.

“Surrender?” he teases, grazing his lips along my jaw. I twist to try and kiss him, but he ducks back, holding me in place, forcing me to wait.

My heart races. Desire is flooding through me, unfamiliar, but sharp and hot in my veins. I want more of him. All of him. My body is aching, a way I’ve never felt before, and everything I want is right here, in Emerson’s eyes.

“Make me,” I whisper. His eyes flash dark, and then he’s tumbling me to the blanket again, body hard against me, and California and my future is far, far away again.