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Since her sister's death, Paisley, who shares her sister’s heart condition, is treated like glass by her parents. But nothing will stop her from completing her Bucket List—even if it kills her. And it almost does, until Jagger pulls her from the ocean and sets her soul on fire
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A 2015 Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence *WINNER* in the New Adult category
Life’s too short to play it safe…
Since her sister’s death, twenty-year-old Paisley Donovan has been treated like delicate glass by her parents. She may share her sister’s heart condition, but nothing will stop her from completing her Bucket List, even if it kills her. And it almost does, until Jagger Bateman pulls her from the ocean and breathes more than air into her lungs—he sets her soul on fire.
Jagger is enrolled in the country’s toughest flight school. He’s wickedly hot, reckless, and perfect for a girl looking to live life to the fullest. Except that Paisley is the commanding general’s daughter, and her boyfriend is Jagger’s biggest rival. Now Paisley must decide just how much to risk for a guy who makes her heart pound a little too hard.
They’re flying through dangerous territory—and one wrong move could make them crash and burn…
"An emotional roller coaster that will leave you sobbing while inexplicably making your heart full. Read. It. NOW." ~ New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Jen McLaughlin
"Jagger and Paisley captured me from page one...such a beautiful, transforming story." ~ New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Tessa Bailey
"Rebecca Yarros, in her second novel, has taken the New Adult genre by storm, bringing together military life and love in a way that is completely realistic, true to life." ~ Kitty, Guilty Pleasures
"From beginning to end I was head over heels in LOVE...Suffice it to say that this book is in my TOP 5 reads of 2014." ~ Jenn Wolfel, Book Starlets
"I first fell in love with her writing after reading her debut, FULL MEASURES. Damn, that book still gives me chills...Now this? Yarros did not disappoint. She's now a part of my favorite one-click authors." ~ Book Baristas
Paisley Donovan is used to being treated like she is fragile, I guess that is because she is. Diagnosis with the same heart condition that killed her sister, everyone is constantly watching and monitoring her waiting for someth... ...more
Jagger is a bad boy who likes being reckless to forget his own past. Paisley is a girl with a severe heart condition and a Bucket List she intends to complete until her last day. He he’s in flight school and wants to make the Apaches team. She is the school director’s daughter. H... ...more
Oh. My. God! This gem of a book was just...indescribable! It was so much more than I thought it could be. It consumed me. Broke me. Repaired me. And I couldn't ask for more. The story is such a beautiful and heartbreaking tale of loss, love and the ability to live for... ...more
Paisley Donovan aka Lee is a 20 yr. old college student living in Enterprise, AL. with her best friend Morgan. She works at the library, and lives a cautious, reserved, boring life. This is mainly because her sister Peyton dies from a heart conditi... ...more
I was more than excited to see that Rebecca Yarros had a new release that was j...
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4.31 avg Goodreads.com rating
About the author
Rebecca Yarros is a hopeless romantic and lover of all things chocolate, coffee, and Paleo. In addition to being a mom, military wife, and blogger, she can never choose between Young Adult and New Adult fiction, so she writes both. She's a graduate of Troy University, where she studied European history and English, but still holds out hope for an acceptance letter to Hogwarts. Her blog, The Only Girl Among Boys, has been voted the Top Military Mom Blog the last two years, and celebrates the complex issues surrounding the military life she adores. When she's not writing, she's tying on hockey skates for her kids, or sneaking in some guitar time. She is madly in love with her army-aviator husband of eleven years, and they're currently stationed in Upstate NY with their gaggle of rambunctious kiddos and snoring English Bulldog, but she would always rather be home in Colorado.
Breathe and drop the towel. That’s what people did at the beach, right? They wore swimsuits and didn’t hide behind enormous beach towels. You can do this. I could be fierce. I used to be, I just had to remember how.
I sucked the humid Florida air past my lips, tasting salt from the ocean. My heart skipped, and I gripped the towel tighter.
“She was afraid to come out of the locker. She was afraid that somebody would see,” Morgan sang next to me, her southern drawl even more pronounced than mine.
“You hush up,” I whispered. I was embarrassed enough without her making a scene.
“You promised, Paisley.” Morgan tugged at the towel, but I held firm.
I swallowed, trying to keep lunch in my stomach. “I know, and I’ll do it. I just need a minute.”
Her exaggerated sigh did nothing to calm my nerves. “It’s just a bathing suit.”
“It’s a bikini, Morgan, which is most definitely not just a bathing suit.” I dug my toes into the white sand.
“You’ve got an amazing body. I don’t know why this is such a big deal.” She adjusted her sunglasses and pulled back her ebony hair, her towel long since replaced by unwavering confidence. I may have agreed to a two-piece, but my boy shorts and a halter-style tankini top covered a heck of a lot more than Morgan’s triangle confection. “Look, it’s our one day away from everything before classes start. This was your idea.”
“Right.” Yes, one day of wildness, freedom, where I wasn’t just a Donovan. Besides, the beach was the easiest box to check on the bucket list, and I was down to 231 days.
“Paisley, no one cares who you are here or what you’re wearing. There are no expectations but your own, just another college girl at the beach. Pretend you’re not…you know…you.” She waved her hand at me. “Now drop that towel before I pitch a fit.”
Pretend. Yeah, I could do that. Deep breath. I straightened my posture like Mama was watching and let go of the towel like she wasn’t. Now, if only I could have shed my inhibitions with it. Morgan nodded with approval, and we headed toward a group of acquaintances from school.
“Hey, y’all!” Morgan called, laying out our beach towels at the edge of the group. I gave a small smile and wave, then turned down a beer, which Morgan claimed. By the looks of it, they’d all been drinking for a while. I sprawled out on my towel and debated wrapping myself in it. I was never allowed to be this exposed at home. What would people think? Mama’s voice burrowed through the sunshine.
I ran my finger down the line of my sternum. No, I’d bare this little bit of skin while it was still pretty, before I let the surgeons get their hands on it. And really, it didn’t matter what the outside of my body looked like, not when it was failing from the inside.
“You’re going to burn that fair skin of yours,” Morgan lectured, handing me a bottle of SPF 90. I thought twice, then slipped off my purple watch, stashing it away before slathering the lotion everywhere I could reach. I didn’t want it to get all oily.
Oh, now that was a lie. I just didn’t want to wear the darn thing.
“You blondes always seem to burn faster.” A deep voice spoke from behind me.
I craned my head and lowered my sunglasses. The guy looked like every other college-aged guy I saw, nothing special or descriptive. Maybe being with Will blinded me to other guys, but I certainly didn’t get the hormonal rushes Morgan cooed about.
Crud. He was waiting for a response. Don’t embarrass Morgan. I gave an easy smile. “Sunscreen saves the day.”
Sunscreen saves the day? Kill me now.
He gave me the “Wow, you’re a total dork” look I knew well but masked it with a smile. “Right. Can I…uh…get your back for you?”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” I answered, shorter than I meant to.
“Oh, okay?” he said and quickly retreated.
Morgan’s sigh reminded me how bad I was at this socializing stuff. “Just because you’re pretty much married to Will doesn’t mean a guy can’t put sunscreen on you.”
“Being together for a year isn’t married, but I’m not about to let a stranger put his hands on me.”
She spread the lotion across my back, careful to cover me completely. “I know, darlin’. How is it being in the same town with him?”
It took me a second to mull that over. “It’s nice. I’m still getting used to seeing him more than a couple days every few months.”
“Well, y’all rocked that long-distance stuff.” She motioned to my Kindle. “Just don’t forget about the real world, okay?” She gawked past me to a crowd of guys playing Ultimate Frisbee near the surf. “Like that piece of eye candy!”
I peeked to see what had her drooling like a hound. “You know, there’s more to a man than how he looks. You have to know what’s—”
Sweet Lord, have mercy.
My Kindle hit the sand with my jaw. I’d never seen a man so beautiful, so raw in energy, or so…delicious looking. He stood easily over six feet tall and had no problem leaping for the Frisbee. His blue board shorts hung low on his hips, and his chest was beautifully bare, colored in tattoos that stretched across his abdomen, half his chest, and down one arm. The Florida sun caressed the line of his carved abs, giving him a fine sheen of perspiration that made his skin glow.
His blond hair was cut close, but long enough to wave, and it framed a gorgeous face. Strong nose, angular lines of his cheekbones, a solid chin, and oh…dimples in his cheeks when he grinned. He belonged on a beach. I halfway expected to find a label on him that said “Mr. California.” He looked laid-back, even by Florida standards.
My heartbeat sped up, my lips parted, and my hands itched to touch him. Heck, I was shocked my thighs hadn’t popped open of their own volition. What color were his eyes? I couldn’t tell from this distance, and maybe that saved me from the utter disgrace of admitting that I was attracted to someone other than my boyfriend.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen someone and simply…wanted, but I sure did now.
Mr. California’s eyes focused on us when Morgan whistled through her fingers.
“Morgan!” I hissed.
“Oh, lighten up, Lee. I whistled; I didn’t drop his pants. Not that I’d mind that.”
Heat raced through my cheeks, not because her suggestion embarrassed me but because in that second I envisioned myself sliding those board shorts down over his hips and— No! What on earth was wrong with me?
Will. Will. Will. I forced his face to my mind, his close-cropped brown hair, his gentle, amber-colored eyes. Yes, Will. Not golden beach god over there.
“You could say hi, Lee,” Morgan suggested. “Flirting never hurt anyone.”
“No, thank you.” First, I wouldn’t do that to Will. Second, what would I even say to someone like that? Hi, I’m Paisley. I’m twenty years old, and my heart is a ticking time bomb. Want to be friends?I thought not.
“There’s Luke! Do you want to hop on the WaveRunners with us?” Morgan asked, waving back at a guy near the water.
“I’d rather not. There’s a red flag out.” Hence a giant vat of death just hankering to swallow me whole.
“That one’s just the warning; the beach isn’t closed or anything.”
“I’m just not a fan of the water.”
“Okay, well, I’m getting your feet in the water sometime today, spoilsport!” She took off with a smile and a wave.
I snuck a glance over at Mr. California, who was surrounded by at least four different bikini-clad girls. It was no surprise; boys like that attracted attention. Heck, I was happy with Will, but Mr. California had my attention, too.
I sighed. There would be no reading if staring at him was an option. I traded my Kindle for my hot-pink sarong and stood, wrapping it around my waist.
The pier jutted out over the crystal blue-green water, and I wandered over to it, keeping my eyes fixed in front of me and not on the Frisbee players. That would never be me, running up and down the beach for fun. I couldn’t run like that if my life depended on it. Actually, my life depended on me not running.
A fresh wave of heat wafted off the wooden boards of the pier before a gust of wind took it away. My sarong billowed out behind me as I explored, entranced by the rhythm of the waves.
When I reached the middle of the deserted pier, I leaned on the railing, my hair whipping me in the face and sticking to my lip balm.
Someone touched my bare shoulder. I turned, pulling my hair off my face. It was one of the guys from Morgan’s group. He was massive and scared the daylights out of me when he swayed, obviously drunk, and nearly knocked me over. “You’re Lee, right?” he slurred, his eyes vague.
“Morgan told me to get your feet wet.” He bent down and plucked me right off my feet. Ugh. He smelled like a brewery.
My muscles stiffened in protest, and I pushed away from him. “I’d really rather not. I’m fixin’ to go read. Could you please put me down?” I tried to be polite, but when he started for the other side of the pier, panic set in.
“She said you’d say anything to get outta going in the water.” He laughed, his drawl sounding more sloshed than southern.
“Please, don’t!” I cried out, shoving away from him in earnest.
“Oh, come on now, it’s just a little water. You can fix your hair once you’re out.” He leaned his head over the side of the pier, and my eyes popped wide at the twenty-foot drop. “This looks faster than walking over to the beach, doesn’t it?”
“No!” I screamed, throwing everything my five-foot-two frame had against his concrete arms. “No! No! No!” I kicked, thrashing in his arms, but there was no give. My heart pounded and my throat closed up.
He laughed, like this was some kind of joke. “Aw, girl, you know you’ll love it once we’re in! You go first.”
He climbed up onto the rail, and I had to say it—keeping this embarrassing secret was going to get me killed. “Please! I can’t swim!”
He wouldn’t stop laughing as he swayed unpredictably, leaning over toward the water.
“No, really, I can’t!” I stopped fighting and started clinging. He wouldn’t drop me over. He wouldn’t. Things like this didn’t really happen.
His hands gripped my waist and pulled me away from him. “In you go!” It seemed effortless to him, taking away my last vestige of safety, and he tossed me into the air.
Everything stilled. My heart ceased its beat as I was airborne. The fall took forever and was over before I could blink.
I screamed the whole way down.
Cold water engulfed me, and didn’t let go. The impact stole the air from my lungs, and I clung to what was left, fighting the instant urge to suck in. I sank, my head far beneath the surface, but I was scared to open my eyes. My feet hit bottom with a soft impact, and I pushed up with every ounce of strength I had, clawing at the water. Momentum brought me to the surface, and as I broke it, I gulped in a breath and screamed for help.
The next wave smothered my cry, hurling me under in a twisted death grip. My body was jerked in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. Salt water burned my nose. I kicked viciously, reaching for the surface. Where was it? I flipped over again. And again.
No surface. No air. Where was it?
My heart raced in a dangerous beat, too fast. Way too fast. If I wasn’t going to drown, I was going to have a heart attack. But I still have 231 days!
A wave swept me to the surface, and I flung my head back, desperate for air. I spent a precious second pulling the hair from my mouth to get to the sweet oxygen and took a gasping breath. I couldn’t manage a scream before I was swept down again, my mouth full of seawater.
The urge to breathe in overwhelmed every other thought, but I couldn’t do it. I swept my hands up, trying to get to air, but the wave wasn’t bringing me up this time. No, another one came, knocking me farther down. My chest was going to burst if I didn’t let the pressure go. It would be so easy just to let it go. I’m going to die out here.
It was supposed to be peaceful, right? Drowning? This wasn’t peaceful. This was terrifying, and it hurt. I wasn’t giving in that easily or drowning because some drunk boy threw me into the ocean. Mama wouldn’t survive it. Peyton would have fought…if she’d had that chance.
Her face brought me the fight I needed, those green eyes that mirrored my own. I kicked harder, aiming for the sparkling surface above. Kick harder, Paisley. Don’t give up. Not now. I heard her voice; lack of oxygen was shutting down my brain. It wouldn’t be long before my reflexes took over and I either lost consciousness or sucked in a lungful of the Gulf of Mexico.
Another wave assaulted me, stealing the last bit of oxygen from my lungs. There was nothing…left. Which direction was up? Where…was I? Don’t breathe in…don’t…
I heard my mother’s voice, but that was impossible, right? “Paisley, stop that nonsense. Peyton will always be older. That’s never going to change. When you’re six, she’ll be eight. When you’re sixteen, she’ll be eighteen. Even when she’s eighty-two, she’ll be older.”
“No, she won’t. She’ll be dead.”
The wave tossed me into the pier, and I felt the impact on my shoulder before my head struck the wood.
Then I felt nothing.
One day I’m not going to fail, and it’s going to shock the hell out of you.
Holy shit. Did that guy just throw that pretty little blonde off the pier?
I ditched the redhead in my arms and jumped the last two stairs onto the deck. Run. My strides consumed the distance to the railing where she’d gone over, my arms pumping furiously. Get there. Faster.
The asshole had thrown her into the water when she’d begged him not to. What the fuck was he thinking? Goose bumps erupted over my skin as she screamed, the sound tearing through me long after the water covered her.
I shoved the juicehead out of my way as he stood there gawking like he hadn’t been the one to drop her twenty feet to the ocean. The waves weren’t fucking around today, obscuring the normally clear water. I climbed the railing and balanced on the edge, scanning the water. Come on, Little Bird, where are you?
Her blond hair popped above the surface for a priceless second before a wave dragged her under again, but it was long enough for her to cry out.
“Get help!” I shouted at the fumbling idiot, whose slack-jawed expression suggested he might finally understand what he’d done.
Stepping out into nothing, my arms circled to slow my impact. A deep breath, and I cut into the water, submerging with brutal force.
I scanned around me fruitlessly before I had to get to the surface and breathe. One breath later, a wave came in and pushed me toward the beach, away from where I’d seen her. The hell with that. I wasn’t leaving without her.
The salt water scraped my eyes as I dove, kicking deeper. There she is! Limp, her arms semi-raised, her hair floated in a morbid halo, the blond catching the light from the sun through the water. Fuck. I was not too late. I refused to fail. Not in this.
I swam down to her, looped one arm around her waist, and kicked furiously for the surface, my lungs burning. Give me skates and ice and I’d decimate everyone, but I was mediocre in the water. Mediocrity wasn’t something I handled well.
We burst through to the air. I rolled onto my back, pulled her face up onto my chest, and kicked for the shore. A wave washed over us, sending water rushing up my nose, but I brought us back to the surface, keeping my arm like a vise around her. She wasn’t breathing, but she wasn’t too blue yet.
My legs caught the material of her skirt, and I untied the knot at her waist, letting it wash away. A few dozen sure, solid kicks later, we reached where the waves stopped fighting us and instead pushed us closer to the shore. Just another minute. She could make it another minute.
Stark relief gutted me when my feet touched the sand. I lifted her into my arms, trying to keep her head balanced against my shoulder. Still not fucking breathing.
I pushed my way through the resistance of the water. “Dude! Is she okay?” The juicehead asked from shore. He was lucky my hands were busy at the moment.
“Get the fuck out of my way,” I seethed, pushing past him. I made it onto the beach and put her down, then checked for breath. None.
Lowering my ear to her chest, I caught her faint heartbeat.
I would have thanked God if I’d believed he existed.
I tilted back her head, and for the first time didn’t check out the looks of the woman I was about to put my mouth on. Plugging her nose, I pulled her jaw down, then sealed my mouth over hers, breathing for us both. I counted out the breaths and laid my hand on her chest, checking again for that precious heartbeat.
“Come on, Little Bird.”
The seconds slowed to small measures of infinity before she sputtered, water spewing from her mouth. I rolled her to the side as she forced out the rest with coughing heaves, her slight body convulsing.
All of the adrenaline abandoned me, leaving only exhaustion. She hadn’t died. She was alive. I hadn’t failed. When she finished, I brought her to her back, watching the rise and fall of her chest like it was going to stop any second. I leaned over her as she took a shaky breath.
Damn, her face was as perfect up close as I’d thought. Small, delicate features on top of plump, parted lips. I’d seen her as I ran down the beach, but I figured she’d be a Monet—pretty from afar, but a mess up close—like most of the girls today. I was wrong.
She was beautiful, and not in the fake, made-up way. “Hey, are you okay?” I asked.
“Thank you,” she whispered in a sweet southern accent as her eyes opened wide in shock. Words failed me. Green. Holy shit, her eyes were huge and the clearest shade of pale green I’d ever seen, with a ring of forest green on the edges. My heart skipped and then began to pound. I ran my barbell across my teeth, speechless for the first time since…ever and reminded myself that I did not believe in love at first sight, or that insane voice in my head that clearly said, “Mine.” Her eyes widened. “Mr. California?”
What? A smile broke out across my face. “Not exactly. I’m from Colorado. Luckily they teach mouth-to-mouth there, too.”
She gasped, leaning on her elbows. “Mouth to— I have a boyfriend!”
Indignant. She was offended? “And…he would take objection to me saving your life?”
She blinked several times, her lips parting. Keep your thoughts off her lips. “N-n-no. He just wouldn’t take kindly to someone else’s mouth on mine.” Her chest heaved as she sat up, and her eyes glazed.
I yanked the nearest beach towel to us, not caring that it belonged to Masters, wherever the hell he was, and wrapped it around her, then cupped her face with one of my hands, strangely tender. I was not a tender kind of guy. Hell, no. I was a no-effort, easy-lay, forget-’em-before-morning guy. “Well, next time I’ll make sure to ask him first, okay?”
She nodded, drawing her knees to her chest. “You saved me.”
“You were drowning.”
A shadow fell on us. The idiot was here. “Hey, man, that was so cool how you—” I turned as I stood, my fist taking my momentum into his jaw. He blinked as he stumbled until his ass hit the sand. “She’s fine!” he called over to the small group that had gathered.
“Jerk,” she muttered, wincing, and raised a hand to the back of her head.
“Are you okay?”
Her nose scrunched. “I think I hit my head on the pier.”
I brushed her hand and hair away to see the swelling goose egg. “You need to get checked out. Let me get you to the doctor, okay?”
She shook her head, her hand hovering above her heart. “No, no doctors.”
She muttered something that sounded like, “My parents will kill me.” She looked too old to care what her parents thought, but with that sweet-as-honey southern accent, I bet she was raised pretty old-fashioned. The opposite of my fend-for-yourself upbringing.
“Do you want to call your boyfriend?”
She grimaced. “Will wouldn’t understand. God, it was silly of me to come here.”
“Who are you here with?”
“My friend Morgan, but she’s out on the WaveRunner…”
We both scanned the coastline, but I didn’t see anyone.
She shrank in on herself, becoming even smaller, if that was possible. She was already fucking tiny, over a head shorter than I was, but rounded in every place I worshipped on a woman. She was…well, damn, she was as perfect in her body as her face.
Her cough dragged my horny mind out of her pants. What the hell was wrong with me? The girl almost drowned five minutes ago. “You need a doctor, just to check you out. I’ve heard too many stories of people who drown hours later from the fluid in their lungs.”
She rested her hand on her chest, her forehead wrinkled like she was thinking, before she nodded. “Okay, I’ll get Morgan’s keys and find an urgent care.”
My mouth dropped. “You’re not going to drive yourself. I’ll take you…” I wanted to pull some Jedi mind shit to get her to say her name.
“Paisley,” she answered. Jackpot. “And I don’t get in cars with strangers.”
I grinned. “I’m Jagger, and since I’ve had my mouth on yours, I’d hardly call us strangers.” A pretty blush crept over her face. She was enchanting. Enchanting? Just start spouting poetry and shit while you’re at it.
“I guess if you were going to kill me, you would have left me to drown, not pulled me to shore.” A devilish gleam sparked in her eyes. “But you did kiss me without consent.” Damn. That smile. Killer.
“I promise, Paisley”—I called her by name just so I could feel it curl around my tongue—“if I kiss you, you’ll know it.” Her smile faltered, and something intangible passed between us. I cleared my throat. “Let’s get you to the doctor.”
I stood and helped her to her feet. She pulled the towel closer to her. “I need my cover-up.”
“I may have cut it loose while I was pulling you ashore.”
“Oh. Right.” She sighed and led me to her beach spot, then slipped shorts and a T-shirt over those curves. Shame, really. She grabbed her bag. “Ready.”
We crossed the sand wordlessly, washed our feet at the little shower sprayer on the octagon deck, and headed to the parking lot.
I unlocked the passenger door of my Defender and held it open. Paisley tossed her bag inside, sank her teeth into her lower lip, and then looked at me. “I can’t get in here.”
What? “You’re going to the damned doctor.”
She laughed, and I immediately wanted to hear it again. “No, I mean, I physically can’t get up here unless you have a ladder.”
“No problem.” I put my hands on her waist and lifted her in. Do not think about sex. Don’t do it.
I slammed her door home, climbed into my side, and had my GPS find the nearest urgent care. “Let’s go, Lucy.”
“You named your car?”
I turned the key, and she purred. “Absolutely. She’s the most dependable woman in my life.” Lucy had been my mother’s last gift to me and the lift kit a to-me-from-me present, my reward for getting the hell away.
Five minutes and a red light later, we were there. She signed in, and I settled into the uncomfortable plastic waiting-room chair. At least I’d remembered to throw a shirt on, but my trunks dripped water down my legs, forming puddles on the linoleum floor as she took the seat next to me.
“Why would your parents kill you?”
“Oh, I’m sure they’d really be okay.” She picked at the leather of her purse.
“Let’s make a deal. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. We’ve got a few minutes where our lives overlap, so let’s agree not to lie to each other. Don’t worry about what I think, just tell the truth.”
A blush crept up her neck, coloring her skin pink. “They’re just a little overprotective. They don’t like it when they don’t know what I’m up to.”
“They don’t know you’re at the beach?”
She tucked a wet strand of hair behind her ear. It fell beneath her collarbone. “They think I’m unpacking my new townhouse. I have my debit card, so if I pay cash and keep it off my insurance, they won’t know I was here. This is what I get for lying, right?” She sighed. “We start classes next week, so it seemed like good timing to get away. No homework yet, and I have the week off of work, and… Oh, I’m rambling.” She forced a fake smile and examined her knees.
“I like rambling.” Shit. I did when she was the one rambling. “What are you majoring in?”
“You’ll laugh.” She stole a look sideways at me, and those green eyes chewed me up and spat me out.
“Guess. Go ahead. Guess the most boring major you can think of. Of course, I find it fascinating.” She blinked at me all too seriously.
“Underwater toenail painting.”
She laughed, and there went that word through my damn head again. Enchanting. “No. Try again.”
“Antigravitational basket weaving?”
“Oh, you’re just about hopeless.”
I may be hopeless, but you’re smiling. “Tell me.”
Her eyes narrowed, like she was judging me, deciding if I was worthy to know her secret. “Okay. Library sciences.”
“A librarian.” I couldn’t stop the images playing in my head: pressing her petite body against the books in the stacks. Shit.
“See, you think it’s lame.”
“‘Lame’ is the word furthest from my mind, trust me.”
Her smile returned, this time genuine, and I struggled to find anything else to say that wouldn’t make me sound like a moron.
She pulled out her phone and sent a text. “Morgan’s going to worry when she gets back and can’t find me.”
“You should call your boyfriend, too. I’m sure he’d want to know what happened.” The image of finding her was burned into my brain. Pale, not breathing, lying limp on the bottom of the ocean floor.
“Oh, no. Will wouldn’t want to know. He’d be furious.”
“Furious that you came to the beach?”
Her fingers flexed across her sternum. “That I came to the beach, that I moved out of my parents’ into my own place, that I’ve had a job now for six months that he doesn’t know about… It’s going to be an interesting conversation, let’s just say that.”
“How long have you two been together?” Why the fuck do you care?
“Almost a year.”
“You in love with him?”
Her head whipped toward mine, her eyes narrowed. “That’s none of your business.”
Ah, there was some fire beneath that honey exterior. “Well, either you are, but you’re a private person, or you aren’t, but you don’t lie well, and I thought we weren’t lying here…so which is it?”
She crossed her arms in front of her chest. I was good at that, finding someone’s trigger, setting them off for the hell of it, but that hadn’t been my intention here. Fuck.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
Her shoulders relaxed, and her eyes softened. “No, it’s just that we were apart for so long while he was at—”
“Paisley?” the nurse called.
“That’s me.” She raised her hand and stood. “Would you mind waiting here?” she asked, something like fear flickering across her face.
Like I was going to leave her? “Yeah, I’m good. I’ll wait for you.” I grabbed the magazine next to me and pretended to read as I watched her walk away. I could do that all day.
It took her an hour, but by the time she came out, I’d convinced the checkout lady to tell Paisley it was a free clinic, and I’d handed over my card to cover her. Hell, it wasn’t really my money anyway.
“All clear!” she said with a smile, but she looked pale again.
I forced a smile and held open the door, something I always did out of habit, but for Paisley, I wanted to.
The Florida humidity closed in as we walked out of the clinic.
“Morgan?” Paisley called out as a girl came running across the parking lot, all legs and cleavage behind a mess of brunette hair, my usual type. Usual? When did I start thinking usual?
“Oh my Gawd.” She drew out that last word in a deeper accent. “I never thought he would do that!” She threw her arms around Paisley and burst into tears. “I’m so sorry!”
Paisley patted her back but didn’t cry. She hadn’t shed a tear through any of it. “It’s okay, Morgan. I’m okay.”
Her friend pulled away and smacked her shoulder. “You have to learn to swim!”
“Okay,” Paisley placated her. She turned toward me with a shy smile. “Besides, Mr. California here pulled me out, so some good came of it, right?”
“That’s an insult to a Coloradan. You know that, right? And it’s Jagger.”
Morgan took a long sweep of me with her eyes, something I was pretty used to, but it annoyed me instead of setting off my usual seek-and-fuck response. “Aren’t you the hero?” She used a breathy tone of voice I was sure frequently worked like a charm. She swayed over to me, running her fingers up my chest. “Anything I can do to say thank you for saving my best friend?”
Over Morgan’s shoulder, Paisley stiffened, and I pulled away. “Yeah, you can thank me by teaching her to swim. It was close.” Too close.
“Absolutely!” She hugged Paisley again. “Let’s get home and unpack?” She skipped across the pavement to a white sedan.
Paisley nodded, then walked to me slowly, her eyes darting across the ground like she couldn’t focus or think of what to say. She looked at me when we were a foot or so apart. We stared at each other in charged silence for a moment, and then she flung herself up, jumping slightly.
I caught her tiny frame easily, and she wrapped her arms around my neck, laying her head over my shoulder as her feet dangled. “Thank you for saving me. For seeing me.”
I held her tightly, savoring the only time I’d feel this girl against me. She smelled like salt water and Florida sun. “I saw you way before you went into the water, Paisley. I’d say you’re welcome, but I’m just thankful I got to you.” She loosened her hold, and I let her slip to her feet. Letting go sucked, plain and simple.
She retreated toward the car, keeping her eyes locked on mine. It was everything I could do to let her go, not to demand her phone number, her address, a way to see her again. After all, she’d come to the beach to escape, not to get stalked by me.
She paused with her hand on the door. “I love Will. He’s my best friend, a part of my family, and he…he knows what I need. He’s good for me.” She gave me a smile that about sent me to my knees. “I’m so glad I met you, Jagger.”
She opened her door and moved to get in. “Paisley!” I called out, unable to stop myself.