Some lovers never leave you…
Twenty years ago she had her whole life spread out before her. She was Bess Walsh, a freshly scrubbed middle-class student ready to conquer the design world. And she was taken. Absolutely and completely.
But not by Andy, her well-groomed, intellectual boyfriend who hinted more than once about a ring. No—during that hot summer as a waitress and living on the beach, she met Nick, the moody local bad boy. He was, to put it mildly, not someone she could take home to Daddy.
Instead, Nick became her dirty little secret—a fervent sexual accomplice who knew how to ignite an all-consuming obsession she’d had no idea she carried deep within her.
Bess had always wondered what happened to Nick after that summer, after their promise to meet again. And now, back at the beach house and taking a break from responsibility, from marriage, from life, she discovers his heartbreaking fate—and why he never came back for her. Suddenly Nick’s name is on her lips…his hands on her thighs…dark hair and eyes called back from the swirling gray of purgatory’s depths.
Dead, alive, or something in between, they can’t stop their hunger.
She wouldn’t dare.
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The sea remained the same. The sound and smell of it wasn’t different, nor the push and pull of its waves. Twenty years ago, Bess Walsh had stood on this beach and looked forward to the rest of her life, and now…
Now she wasn’t sure she was ready for what lay ahead.
Now she stood with cold sand scraping her toes and the salt-scented air tangling her hair. She breathed deep. She shut out the night with the darkness behind her eyelids and lost herself in the past so she didn’t have to think about the future.
The night air in late May still held a chill, especially this close to the water, and her thin T-shirt and denim skirt didn’t provide much warmth. Her nipples peaked, and she crossed her arms to hug some heat into herself. It seemed appropriate to shiver, remembering that long-ago summer. Remembering him. For twenty years she’d tried to forget, yet here she was, back again, and unable to forget any more than she ever had.
Bess tipped her face to the breeze that pushed her hair from her face. She opened her mouth to drink it in, to eat it like some sweet candy. The smell filled her nose and coated her tongue. It took her back more effectively than mere memory could. Transported her.
Silly. She was too old to entertain fairy tales. Time travel didn’t exist. There was no way to go back. No way, even, to stay where she was. Her only option, anybody’s only option, was to move forward.
Thinking this, she did move forward. One step, then another. Her feet sank into the sand and she cast a glance over her shoulder to the safety of her deck and the single candle burning there. The wind pushed the flame into flickers and she waited for it to go out, but it stayed lit within the protection of its glass container.
Back then, that house had stood apart. Now neighbors flanked it, close enough to hit if you spat in the right direction, as her grandma would have said. The house behind, four stories of million-dollar architecture, loomed over hers. Now seagrass-dotted dunes that hadn’t been there twenty years ago swelled between the houses and the beach, and though a few lights shone in windows farther down the sand, closer to the main square of Bethany Beach, this early in the season most of the houses near hers were dark.
The water would be too cold for swimming. Great whites could be lurking. The undertow would be strong. Bess went to the water anyway, drawn by memory and desire.
The ocean had always made her more aware of her body and its cycles. The push and pull of the tide had seemed such a feminine thing, tied as it was to the moon. She never swam in it, but being around the sea always made Bess feel more sensual and alive, like a cat wanting to rub up against a friendly hand. The warm waters of the Bahamas, the cold Atlantic waves of Maine, the smooth, rippling Gulf of Mexico, the gorgeous blue waters of the Pacific, had all called to her, but none of them so strongly as this patch of water and sand. This place.
Twenty years later, it was stronger than ever.
Her feet found the hard-packed sand the last wave had left behind. She curled her toes into the chill. Now and then a glimmer ofwhite foam appeared, but nothing touched her yet. She took a dragging step, letting her feet guide her so she didn’t come down unexpectedly on a sharp stone or shell. Another step forward led her to even wetter sand. Squishy again. The rush and roar ofthe water threw up spray into the breeze, and she opened her mouth for it the way she had the scent.
The water, when at last it touched her feet, wasn’t cold. The warmth was more shocking than a chill would’ve been, and Bess gasped. Before she took another step, another wave came. Warmth swirled around her ankles and splashed up her bare legs. It pulled away, leaving her feet buried. She went deeper without thinking. Step by step, until the water, as warm as a bath, as warm as a kiss, bathed her thighs. It soaked the hem of her skirt and splashed onto her shirt.
Laughing, Bess bent to let the water flow over her hands, her wrists. Elbows. It rolled under her touch, evading her grasp. She knelt, soaking herself in the waves.
They touched her like a thousand kisses all over her at once. Like tongues licking. Splashing higher, wetting her panties. Water covered her to the waist when she sat. Moved up over her throat when she lay back. It covered her face and she held her breath, waiting for it to retreat.
Her hair came loose, but Bess thought nothing of losing the clip that had bound it. Like seaweed, her hair swirled, tickling her bare arms and covering her face, only to be washed away by the next wave. Salt and the grit of sand painted her lips when she licked them, opened them as if for a lover’s kiss. She spread out her arms, but the water wouldn’t be held. Salt stung her eyes, but not from the sea. From her tears, sliding unbidden across her cheeks. They tasted bitter, not like the fish-sand-salt sweetness of the ocean.
Bess opened herself up to the water and the waves. To the past. Every time the surge came she held her breath, wondering if this next time would be the one to take her by surprise and fill her lungs with water. Or to pull her deeper, under. And she wondered what she would do if that happened. If she would care. If she would fight or let the sea take her away, if she would give up and be lost in it the way she had once been lost in him.